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Academic Service Learning
California's Call to Service

Executive Summary:

Response to the CSU Academic Senate
Regarding AS 2471-99 — Governor’s Proposed
Community Service Graduation Requirement
Submitted by: California State University, Fresno

California State University, Fresno has a rich history of engaging our students in meaningful community activities. Many of the university’s guiding documents and activities directly point to our desire to be involved in and serve our surrounding community. Specifically:

The "Plan for the '90s" envisions our university as the "premier regional interactive university" in which the campus is "singularly unified with its community". The Plan cites several strategic directions for the university to achieve its Vision and Mission. Included is an emphasis on "encouraging student involvement in their own education through internships, cooperative education, community service experience, and related activities".

A primary goal listed in our university's newly adopted "Vision for the 21st Century: A Plan for Excellence" states that our university will "work towards integrating a significant service-learning component into the educational experience of each student." The Academic Programs Task Force also recommended that the university "engage in a major effort to improve teaching of students through the use of new technologies, internships, cooperative education, community service experience and related activities"

The university currently fosters a large number of innovative and valuable community service and service-learning programs. Documented service totals in excess of 107,000 hours of service provided to the community each year by over 3,000 students. Undocumented service, including individual student volunteerism, would certainly increase this figure substantially.

The university community recognizes and strongly supports all of the benefits of engaging students in service activities. We applaud Governor Davis’ desire to increase the civic engagement of our students. Furthermore, we urge the Chancellor, the CSU Academic Senate, the Board of Trustees, the Legislature and the Governor to look for ways to increase the number of opportunities and incentives available to students, staff and faculty which promote service involvement. We also believe that, whenever possible, service experiences fostered through institutions of higher education should be intentionally connected to student learning, as opposed to general volunteerism.

While our commitment to service is visible in words and in action, we do not support a graduation requirement of service for students in public institutions of higher education. The reasons for this include:

• A new graduation requirement, especially one as unique as a service mandate, would have a significant impact when there is already a desire to limit or even reduce current graduation requirements.

• There are philosophical and legal implications of mandating "volunteer" service.

• The likelihood is that the estimated 8,000 annual placement opportunities needed to satisfy such a mandate in the Fresno/Clovis area are simply not available. This is especially true when limiting placements to quality activities that provide meaningful service to the community, as well as provide meaningful learning benefits to the students.

• It is an expressed fact that most community based organizations do not have the infrastructure or available funds to screen, orient, train and supervise the large increase in short-term, alternating flows of volunteers that would result from this type of mandate.

• There are significant infrastructure and budgetary implications for each campus. It is estimated that providing the university and the community the services needed to support such a mandate would conservatively require nearly $500,000 in new funding.

• There are significant risk management and liability implications for all parties involved, from the students, to the community, to the university, to the statewide institutions involved.

• The impact on students includes time required, costs, and possible delays in graduation.

• A number of students will be resistant or even hostile to the idea of mandatory service; not financially or personally prepared to provide meaningful service; or simply unqualified, personally, professionally or academically, to be involved in direct service settings.

• Previous research suggests that mandated service does not support and may even hinder the development of a service ethic in students.

Rather than a mandating service, we strongly encourage expanding meaningful voluntary community service-learning activities. This would meet the Governor’s desire to provide needed services to our communities, as well as promote an increased civic ethic within our university community and students.

Content Contact:
Judy Botelho
(562) 951-4749
Technical Contact:
webmaster@calstate.edu

Last Updated: April 29, 2008