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Academic Service Learning
California's Call to Service

California State University, Fresno

Response to the CSU Academic Senate
Regarding AS 2471-99 — Governor’s Proposed
Community Service Graduation Requirement

The following is a response to the CSU Academic Senate Resolution 2471-99 concerning Governor Gray Davis’ proposal to make community service a graduation requirement for undergraduate students in California public institutions of higher education. This response is consistent with the University’s "Vision for the 21st Century" document and principles agreed upon by members of the university’s Service-Learning Development Committee. These principles include:

There should not be a requirement of service for students, but a range of opportunities and incentives which encourage and foster their participation. The State of California, the CSU System and the University should make every effort to create the opportunities and incentives necessary for every student to have at least one meaningful community service-learning experience prior to graduation.

That there are a number of impressive community service-learning programs already in place at California State University, Fresno which can be built upon to engage even more students in service which is personally, professionally and academically enriching.

That, whenever possible, service experiences should be intentionally connected to student learning, as opposed to general volunteerism. This moves students away from service which is not linked to the curriculum towards more academically oriented service-learning, which has equally weighted and intentional service and learning goals.

To facilitate our response to Resolution AS 2471, the questions have been regrouped into four categories which were developed by faculty at San Francisco State University. These categories are: program overview, liability, community issues, and institutional resources.

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Clarity

Is the proposal clear in its intent in terms of the breadth of the application of the proposed requirement across programs and the timeline for its implementation?

The Governor’s proposal is clear in its intent. However, the breadth of its application is not clear. Several questions arise whenever the proposal is discussed, including: What definition of "community service" will be used? Will there be a tie to academics (service-learning)? Will there be a minimum number of service hours required? What options will students have to fulfill the requirement? Will there be allowances for students to waive the requirement? Additionally, the implementation timeline has still not been clearly communicated.

Incentives vs. Mandate

Do you agree with the statement in the May Academic Senate CSU resolution that a service ethic is fostered better by providing incentives and opportunities than by mandating service?

Yes. California State University, Fresno has committed, in our "Vision for the 21st Century: A Plan for Excellence" document, to working "toward integrating a significant service-learning component into the educational experience of each student." While it is our desire to engage every student in service-learning, mandating community service is often counterproductive to many of the benefits commonly achieved through service activities. For example, fostering a ethic of service and civic engagement may be thwarted by making service mandatory.

Other issues of concern with an overall mandate include:

  • Costs to students, such as transportation and the potential for time away from paid work supporting their educational and living expenses.

  • While there is significant need in our community which can be addressed through service activities, quantity of need does not always equate to the quality of placement opportunities. Students must be properly screened, oriented, trained, supported and supervised if they are to have a valuable community service learning experience. This requires staffing resources which are not available to most community based organizations or individual faculty members. In addition, it is an unfortunate fact that many service opportunities are primarily clerical or labor oriented, diminishing the opportunities for higher education students to gain a meaningful learning experience.

  • Some students are unprepared, unwilling, or even unqualified to perform well in a community service setting. The ramifications for the community organizations and those served by such students is a serious consideration that must be weighed.

Benefits

What would you foresee as benefits to students in the performance of (service)? How and why could this enhance their learning?

Involvement in meaningful service activities can provide a number of benefits, including: enhancing student’s self-esteem; increasing leadership skills; improving career related skills; strengthening students’ civic or service-ethic; greater knowledge community resources and needs of special populations; and enhancing their awareness and appreciation of diverse cultures. Research has proven, however, that many of these benefits are diminished, if not eliminated, when service is mandated (January 1999, Psychological Science).

Service-learning brings with it all the benefits of community service, plus a new layer of benefits, such as: providing a practical setting to apply and test classroom learning; increasing cognitive abilities, such as critical thinking skills; and allowing for interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving.

Credit

To what extent should community service be (or not be) credit bearing?

Credit should not be given merely for the activity of service. Instead, academic credit should be awarded for the learning that is gained and demonstrated from a service experience. For this reason, credit would be much more appropriate if the service activity was part of a course that utilized valid service-learning approaches.

Would this requirement be met in the lower division or upper division years? How would you address transfer and articulation issues with community colleges in your service area?

With appropriate preparation, service could be preformed at any level of education. Ideally, students would be provided with a number of opportunities throughout their academic careers. If the issue is a service-learning course, articulation issues would most likely be handled on a course-by-course basis through mechanisms already in place.

Hours of Service

What limits, if any, should be attached to the terms "service" and "community," assuming that a "community service graduation requirement" should be multifaceted?

Providing broad definitions for these terms will allow each campus greater flexibility and opportunities for student service activities. The term "service" should be applied to any non-paid (hourly or salary) work in a nonprofit or not-for profit endeavor that serves a real need in the community. This could include work for a nonprofit or not-for-profit organization, as well as independently planned projects approved by a course instructor (service-learning) or community service office (community service). In addition to direct service, applied research and other non-direct services should be considered as appropriate service. "Community" can be applied to the general community, individual sub-groups, and even to the campus community. Services provided should benefit a segment of the population which is in need of service, not simply a campus academic department or program office in need of extra clerical assistance.

What would be an appropriate amount of community service (e.g. number of hours) to be required for graduation?

The quality of the experience, as exemplified by the integration of service with academic learning, along with meaningfulness of service, is more of an issue than a simple measure of hours. The minimum number of hours required for a meaningful service-learning assignment is a complicated issue. Some faculty members are able to foster an outstanding learning experience with as little as 10 hours of service. However, because most faculty are not as adept at fostering a valuable learning experience with this few hours, it is recommended that the service assignment be closer to a minimum of 30 hours. This is especially true if the requirement is not linked to a traditional academic course. Expanding the hours of service beyond a 30 hour requirement brings with it an increase in impact felt by students who are already struggling to meet the many academic and personal demands made upon them. This is especially true for the many non-traditional student populations that make up the CSU system, including a large number of older, employed individuals responsible for supporting their family. In addition, faculty may resist the need to include such a significant amount of class time on one assignment within the body of an academic course. When both student, faculty and community needs are considered an appropriate amount of time might more realistically be assessed.

Acceptability

For courses on our campuses that have a service component, who will evaluate the appropriateness of that service toward satisfaction of the community service graduation requirement under this program?

The Service-Learning Development Committee reviews and approves courses for designation as "service-learning" courses. This committee could be used for approving classes meeting the community service graduation requirement. It is vital that this evaluation process be faculty driven, with student and community voices considered.

Articulation

Do you anticipate any special problems concerning transfer and articulation issues between CSU and the UC and/or Community Colleges related to a community service graduation requirement?

Articulation procedures are already in place and they will have to be used for this requirement. Significant issues could arise regarding articulation.

Waiver

If community service is not to be a blanket graduation requirement, which programs should be excluded and/or which students should be exempt?

Again, our belief is that there should not be a graduation requirement. However, if one is applied, significant room for waiving the requirement for special circumstances should be allowed. Waivers might be allowed for departments whose unit requirement already exceeds the 124 unit minimum, due to extensive major coursework. Also, special populations, such as disabled students, international students, and re-entry students might be allowed special exemptions on a case-by-case basis. It may also be appropriate to waive the requirement when the skills or temperament of the student might create greater problems than benefits for the community which is being served. Finally, some provision for "conscientious objectors" should be considered. Placing students who are hostile to the idea of mandatory service could cause significant problems within the general community.

Logistics

If a student volunteer is rejected by the proposed agency, what provisions will you be able to make to accommodate the student?

By creating a wide variety of service options, we would hope to allow enough flexibility in placement opportunities to accommodate most students. Students with poor personal, professional and/or academic skills will be difficult to place.

Time to Graduation

What effect would you anticipate on time-to-graduation?

Given the current desire to limit and even lessen graduation requirements, a new requirement could have an impact on time-to-graduation. The amount of impact should not be significant for the majority of students, but could delay graduation for some by a semester.

Assessment

What assessment measures are you prepared to set up to evaluate the success or failure of the community service program?

Assessment is generally left to individual instructors and/or the academic departments. If overall impact on students, faculty and the community are needed, significant new resources will be required.

LIABILITY QUESTIONS

Would you anticipate any new, burdensome issues regarding legal liability between the campus and the community?

Possibly. Liability and risk management are significant concerns, not just for the state, the CSU System and the university, but for all parties involved. Issues include:

• Institutional liability

• Community based organization liability

• Faculty/staff liability

• Liability for harm caused by students

• Liability for harm caused to students

• Worker’s Compensation issues

Would there be any unusual dangers and risks in your service area?

Probably no more or less than in any region. However, if thousands of students per semester are to be sent out into the community, significant attention must be paid to risk management. Again, this issue could require significant new resources.

If your students in clinical professional programs perform community service, will they be risking any particular liability?

Most clinical programs (nursing, physical therapy, athletic training) have procedures in place to deal with liability and risk management, such as professional insurance coverage. When academic programs that have not traditionally sent students into the community problems could arise. Depending on cost, it may be an unrealistic burden to require each student who performs community service to purchase liability insurance.

What area of campus will take on the responsibility for resolving legal issues arising from the performance of community service?

The University Counsel.

If the community service is to be done in K-12 classrooms, can issues and costs of fingerprinting, character references, drug-testing, and the like be resolved?

The needs in K-12 settings are extensive, as is the opportunity for meaningful service experiences. Therefore, dealing with fingerprinting and screening issues is imperative. At this time, unless special funds are available, the burden is placed on the student to pay for fingerprinting and Department of Justice screening. At a cost of up to $70 and delays of more than three months, significant changes in the system will need to be implemented on a statewide level if services are to be rendered in an educational setting. Simply passing these costs on to students is not a reasonable alternative.

COMMUNITY ISSUES

Demand

Are there enough off-campus service demands and opportunities for your campus population for the performance of community service?

As stated earlier, the quantity of demand is not the issue. It is the number of quality service opportunities that is of major concern. Service assignments that are both meaningful to the community and meaningful to the student take careful planning and coordination, as well as significant resources. Building an adequate relationship with community partners is both an issue of time and resources. The needs are there; the infrastructure to provide meaningful community service learning assignments that address those needs is not.

Are there potentials for damage to already-accredited professional programs because of an increase in the ratio of students to supervisors (or volunteers to agencies)?

Doubtful, however, this does raise the issue of whether or not non-paid fieldwork placements, such as student teaching or nursing practicums, would satisfy the Governor’s proposed mandate. In the end, this impact of student-to-supervisor ratios (or volunteer to agency) will be most apparent and impacting on the agencies. This issue will have a significant impact on agencies’ abilities to absorb the increased numbers of potential student service providers. Many of the nonprofits where students would be placed will not be able to accommodate the number of potential student "volunteers".

Do you anticipate your students competing with other state interests — e.g., a need to place welfare recipients in community service jobs?

More and more segments of our state are requiring service of their constituents. This includes large segments of the K-12 educational system, welfare agencies, court-mandated service, and higher education. There is a limit to how many placements nonprofits and service sector agencies can reasonably handle.

Another issue is whether or not the increased number of volunteers will supplant paid employees. For example, if hundreds of new "volunteers" become available to a given school system, what will be their incentive to avoid eliminating paid teachers aides and other support staff?

Areas of Need

What community needs in your community might be addressed by community service done by your students? Who would determine what these community needs are?

The "community" should determine what services are needed. This includes the nonprofit service sector agencies. Needs do exist in almost every conceivable facet of education, health care, public safety, the environment and other areas.

Should assessment of community needs be done with attention to the effect of mandatory community service on town/gown relationships?

Assessing community needs is important, especially with respect to such overriding issues as the capacity of various agencies for supporting students who are only available for a minimal number of hours. If an unfortunate incident or lawsuit were to occur, significant negative impacts on the university’s image could result. This could, in turn, severely impact the relationship between the community and the university.

Community Capacity

Have you done or anticipated a survey of your community’s ability to train, accept, and monitor alternating flows of student volunteers? How will they affect agency profiles?

Twelve nonprofit service organizations, along with the Volunteer Bureau of Fresno County and the United Way, were invited to consult with the campus community on 10/21/99. The findings from this gathering included:

  • Most of the agencies represented at the meeting did not feel that they could provide the quantity and type of placements needed to satisfy a graduation mandate as is currently proposed.

  • Resources, primarily adequate staffing, are not available to screen, orient, train and supervise the number of student "volunteers" that would result from this type of mandate.

  • Most agencies can provide a number of academically relevant service opportunities. However, limiting student service work to academically relevant work would impact the number of placements available, as well as the type of services provided to those in need.

  • Community based agencies would need significant support from the university including: greater screening and preparation of volunteers; increased database management, including the development of a regional website listing service opportunities and placement procedures; and assistance with fingerprinting and DOJ screening costs.

  • While there is tremendous support for increasing student involvement in service, there is little support for a graduation mandate.

INSTITUTIONAL RESOURCES

On your campus, who would monitor completion of this requirement?

As stated, our recommendation is to provide a variety of opportunities and incentives, not mandate to service. If a mandate does become a reality, the Students for Community Service (SCS) office would be the primary program responsible for facilitating all community service and service-learning planning and programming, as well as for monitoring completion of the requirement. SCS would need significant support and assistance from various academic departments (related to service-learning coursework) and from the Admissions, Records and Evaluations department.

How efficient would this be?

Considering the magnitude of the requirement, the overall impact is hard to determine. However, a relatively efficient process should be obtainable with cooperation from all segments and the allocation of appropriate new resources.

What additional resources would be needed for this?

The first resource issue that would need to be addressed is facilities for a significantly expanded community service/service-learning program. Given the extremely limited office space available on our campus, this would be a challenge. Other resources would include office equipment, including furniture, computers and other supplies needed by an expanded staff.

What specific costs (resources, staff, supervising, and reporting) would you anticipate in implementing such a requirement?

Currently, the SCS office is staffed by one full-time professional and student assistant support. Significant additions to this staffing would be required. Funding commitments would have to match the magnitude and demands of a new, university-wide graduation requirement. Conservatively, staffing required would include:

  1. Program Director. Full-time, twelve month management position. Approximately $65,000 per year, plus benefits.
  2. Assistant Director: Full-time, twelve month position. Funds currently used to provide for position of SCS Coordinator could be used to pay for this position.
  3. Special Projects Coordinator: Full-time, twelve month position. Approximately $40,000 per year, plus benefits.
  4. Community Liaison: Full-time, twelve month position. Approximately $40,000 per year, plus benefits.
  5. Faculty Coordinator: 3/4 time or 9 WTU. Approximately $52,500 for full backfill of a tenured professor.
  6. Clerical Assistant: Full-time, twelve month position. Approximately $30,000 per year, plus benefits.
  7. Graduate Assistants: Two positions @ 20 hours per week x 34 weeks x $10/hr = $13,600
  8. Student Assistants: Two positions @ 20 hours per week x 48 weeks x $7.45/hr = $14,304

Operating expenses, beyond payroll, would have to be increased appropriately. Roughly, this would equate to approximately $40,000 per year for travel, supplies, telecommunications, postage, printing and other expenses.

To provide the needed incentives to faculty to develop meaningful service-learning assignments, two primary areas must be addressed. The first is a regular mini-grant program that will support departments and faculty in their development of service-learning coursework. A yearly mini-grant fund of $40,000 per year is proposed. Half of this funding ($20,000/year) would be used to fund $10,000 departmental mini-grants to increase the number of service-learning classes required as part of students’ major requirements. The other half of the funds would be used to provide individual faculty members with $2,500 mini-grants to support service-learning development and implementation.

The other, critical piece to engaging faculty in service-learning is the inclusion of service-learning related activities in the recognition, hiring, retention, tenure and promotion processes, as well as consideration of service-learning in workload factoring.

The estimated costs for staffing and operating expenses are as follows:

Professional and Clerical Staffing (new) $227,500

Benefits $150,150

Graduate and Student Assistants $27,904

Operating budget (new) $30,000

Mini-grant/faculty support $40,000

Sub total $475,554

Other potential costs that should be considered include:

Worker’s Compensation (est. by Risk Mgmt.) $2,000,000

Facilities construction/renovation for 750 sq. feet $75,000

Total estimated costs $2,550,554

There are additional costs, such as transportation and fingerprinting/screening. Transportation costs would most likely be passed on to students, but as noted earlier in this document, we do not feel it is reasonable to demand that students pay the fingerprinting/screening costs, which could be has high as $70 per person.

There is also the likelihood that such a mandate would have an impact on other campus departments, including Admissions, Records and Evaluations, and, Health Services for tuberculosis testing in the case of individuals working in K-12 settings.

Addendum: January 1999 Psychological Science Article: "Community Service Requirements Can Discourage Those Not Ready for Volunteering."

Content Contact:
Judy Botelho
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Last Updated: April 29, 2008