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Academic Service Learning
California's Call to Service

California State University, Northridge

Response to the CSU Academic Senate Regarding
Governor Gray Davis's Request for a
Community Service Graduation Requirement


We appreciate the governor's desire to promote a service ethic in our students and we support his intention to increase opportunities for students to be actively engaged in solving the problems of their communities. We believe such a goal is consonant with our mission.

Here as on other CSU campuses, many of our students and faculty are already so engaged. Many departments offer community outreach and service programs as part of their curriculum. Our Center on Disabilities and Center for Southern California Studies are two examples of several campus-wide initiatives.

As part of the CSU Northridge strategic plan we have set a goal "to increase the percentage of graduating seniors who have participated in either an internship or service-learning experience to 30% by 2004." While this goal is not limited to community service it demonstrates our commitment to developing alliances with our surrounding community. Limiting the goal to 30% within a five-year timeline reflects the substantial amount of research and planning such a target will entail.

In order to pursue the governor's request we will need the flexibility and resources to develop a requirement that at least fulfills these three objectives:

  • it serves the mission of the CSU
  • it is pedagogically sound -- it enhances a student's education
  • it is meaningful and beneficial to students and communities -- it achieves the governor's goal

    Community service on the level the governor proposes will require a significant commitment of funds by the State and the Chancellor. Such resources are necessary to develop a range of community service opportunities and a system to manage them. It will also require a significant commitment by campus faculty, staff and administrators in research and discussion among ourselves and with our communities. To begin with, we need to determine our current level of community service activity and consult with our surrounding communities to determine their needs and their ability to accommodate students who must meet this requirement. We need to understand the life circumstances of our students and the impact of the proposed new requirement on them. Only then can we develop a viable plan for instituting this requirement, including a determination of the appropriate amount (number of hours) of service.

    There are key issues - philosophical and practical - that must be addressed before we undertake the task the governor proposes.

    Our primary concerns are:

    The impact of this new requirement on students

    In the mission statement of the CSU Northridge, we state, "The University's first priority is to promote the welfare and intellectual progress of students." Our fundamental responsibility is to recruit, retain, educate and graduate our students. We need to determine the effect of this requirement on a student's progress toward the degree, and make sure we are not hindering this progress or imposing new social and economic burdens with this new requirement.

    Our students at Northridge, like many other CSU campuses, come from a range of socioeconomic circumstances that sometimes work against a student's likelihood of graduation. Indeed, many of our students are recipients of the community service offerings of others. We have students living at the poverty line, on welfare, even homeless.

    In 1998-99, our Financial Aid Office funded over half of the students attending Northridge. The average family income of these students was $22,160. Most of these students must work to augment their financial aid. Federal Work-Study funds are awarded to the neediest of these students. Whenever possible, students are encouraged to work rather than increase their loan indebtedness. Still, the average CSU Northridge student loan debt at graduation is $11,979.

    In developing a plan we must take into account the diversity of student circumstances and goals on our campus. We must ensure that every student has equitable and reasonable opportunities to complete this requirement without impeding a student's progress toward her/his degree, and without imposing undue hardships on individuals already struggling to support themselves and often families while going to school.

    The efficacy of mandating volunteerism

    We agree with other CSU campuses that the implementation of a community service requirement is problematic and for reluctant students, it could be counterproductive. While we believe that meaningful acts of service can broaden students' awareness of community needs and empower students to proactively address them, for some students it could transform indifference into antipathy. A requirement could not only defeat the governor's purpose but also solidify this resistance.

    It is the responsibility of faculty to determine degree requirements

    Faculty self-governance, system-wide flexibility and campus autonomy are essential if we are to develop a community service program that is relevant and meaningful to students, justifiable as pedagogy, and productive for our various communities. Once faculty develop system-wide definitions and limits of community service, campuses must be free to develop plans that are multi-faceted and responsive to local constituencies.

    This initiative requires a significant commitment of additional resources

    We need much more information to develop a plan that mutually benefits our students and our communities. For our plan we propose a three-year phase in as follows:

    First year: Needs assessment study on all target populations (students, faculty, community, administrators), including resource implications for each constituency

    Second year: Administrative feasibility and planning study, including community information program and marketing/communication plan

    Third year: Pilot program of proposed continuum of options. At the end of this year we will be able to evaluate the impact, procedures and effectiveness of the pilot program.

    The rationale for this timeline is that we need to discover the current level of volunteerism among students and faculty. We need information from various communities and groups on their current needs and their capability to accommodate the influx of students this mandate would produce. In our urban service area this is a huge task.

    CSU NORTHRIDGE PROPOSED CONTINUUM of SERVICE OPTIONS

    At Northridge, we have four different programs that provide a range of opportunities for community service, ranging from credit-bearing coursework to paid or unpaid work for nonprofit organizations to organized short-term projects. These programs comprise our proposed continuum of service options described below.

    If community service is required, these programs must be aligned if not integrated. This requires a significant investment of resources for discussion, planning and implementation. The university and the CSU system need to agree on a definition of community service, minimum requirements and screening procedures, to begin with. In addition, each of these programs will need to expand to accommodate the demand.

    The resource implications are the same for each component of our proposed continuum. Criteria and standards must be developed, oversight and responsibility assigned, validation procedures created and implemented, and record keeping systems established. A chart and explanation of our proposed Continuum of Service Options follows.

    This plan is intended to support the Governor's request for a graduation/service requirement while maximizing our students' ability to choose the manner in which they will fulfill it. The proposed "Continuum of Service Options" provides four comparable and equitable means by which students can meet the proposed requirement. Students would be able to select any of the following to accrue service hours:

    Option 1: Take a designated service-learning class or other credit-bearing class.

    Option 2: Participate in a University-based service activity that receives external government or foundation funding.

    Option 3: Participate in Federal Work-Study community service employment.

    Option 4: Perform individual or group volunteer activity or activities.

    1. Academic Credit-bearing Coursework - Internships, Field Experiences, Practica, Service-Learning Courses

    At present, CSU Northridge offers a variety of credit-bearing courses that include community service. Many departments offer nonprofit or public service internships, field experiences, practica and/or designated service learning courses that incorporate relevant community service into traditional classroom (lecture/discussion or laboratory) formats. Each semester approximately 15% of student enrollments are in these types of courses.

    Internships are usually capstone experiences in the major taken by upper division students who have completed one or more prerequisite courses that provide the theory and methodology that enable meaningful practice in the field. When internships are performed at nonprofit or public organizations, they can fulfill the graduation/service requirement. Similarly, certain disciplines, such as those in health or human services fields with state licensing requirements, offer closely supervised field work or practicum experiences for upper division students. When these field assignments are done in public service or nonprofit settings, they, too, will fulfill the graduation/service requirement.

    Service-learning courses promote student learning through active participation in meaningful and planned service experiences in the community that are directly related to course content. Research demonstrates many positive benefits of service learning, such as enhancement of the student's grade point average, understanding of course content, general knowledge, knowledge of a field or discipline, and aspirations for advanced degrees. Service learning is also associated with increased time devoted to homework and studying, and more contact with faculty. In addition to these positive academic outcomes, service learning coursework improves community awareness and self-awareness, heightens sensitivity to diversity, and promotes deeper commitments to civic responsibility and social action. We believe that the optimum benefit to students would come from their enrollment in courses with community service components. This option on the continuum should be encouraged whenever possible and feasible for the student.

    Currently, the University has a Center for Community-Service Learning with a faculty director on .8 reassigned time. She has assisted approximately 40 faculty members to begin service-learning classes since the Center opened in January 1998. Despite this growth, at the present time, the University does not offer adequate numbers or choices of courses to allow this option to be required for students in every major. Mandatory service learning classes could also pose problems for students who have demanding and/or inflexible work schedules or other personal or financial burdens.

    At present, no campus unit exists with the ability to assume responsibility for approval, validation, monitoring and tracking student records for those who meet the Governor's service requirement by taking courses. There is no catalog designation that would allow students to locate classes that would fulfill the proposed requirement. Criteria for such a designation would have to be developed and implemented by the Educational Policies Committee of the Faculty Senate and courses would be approved through the regular curriculum cycle. When students complete an approved class, a validation instrument would have to be transmitted to Admissions and Records for inclusion in the graduation check and transcript. Admissions and Records will have additional or new forms to develop and additional thousands of data entries to perform.

    2. University-based service activity that receives external funding

    Many department, college and university programs link student service to external programs that are designed to improve the quality of life for people in local communities. These programs are often funded by grants from federal, state or local governments and provide wages or stipends to students who perform such services as tutoring, mentoring and college readiness training. Some of these programs require concurrent enrollment in classes while others are run through volunteer recruitment. Examples are GEAR-UP, the Center for Academic Preparedness, and Future Scholars. These programs receive grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Corporation for National Service and other public and private entities. Given the economic profile of our students, we believe that community service performed as a result of any grant designed to foster community service should satisfy the proposed requirement. The philosophical underpinnings of both programs are parallel. Federal, state and local governments actively promote and fund service.

    At present, no campus unit exists with the ability to assume responsibility for approval, validation, monitoring and tracking student records for those who meet the Governor's service requirement by performing University-based service activity that receives external funding. Programs will have to be identified and appropriate systems developed.

    3. Work-Study

    Federal Work-Study Community Service jobs are defined as services which are identified by an institution of higher education through formal or informal consultation with local nonprofit, governmental, and community-based organizations, as those designed to improve the quality of life for community residents, particularly low-income individuals, or to solve particular problems related to their needs. Examples of such jobs are America Reads and America Counts tutors in elementary schools, and tutors and mentors in middle schools and high schools placed through our Outreach Program.

    The Federal Work-Study Program is required to spend a minimum 7% of Federal Work-Study student earnings for community service jobs. Northridge has exceeded this minimum each year and continues to develop increased numbers of community service employment opportunities. As mentioned above, Federal Work-Study funds are awarded to the neediest of the financial aid recipients. If the community service jobs authorized and funded by the Federal Work-Study Program were not eligible to meet the proposed requirement, an additional work burden would be placed on these students, jeopardizing retention and graduation rates.

    The Federal Work-Study Program office now identifies and develops appropriate community service job opportunities, documents hours worked in those jobs, and reports hours worked to appropriate offices. This program office follows Federal guidelines defining community service, and FWS procedures to verify hours worked in approved jobs and provide annual or semi-annual reports to appropriate offices.

    Building upon the existing Federal Work-Study Program will require some adjustments and increased resources. Even a seemingly small increase in staff workload (such as a forty-hour increase over the academic year) is significant when staff members are already stretched to meet existing program requirements. This new commitment will require additional resources for programming the database and other clerical demands, increasing professional staff time to develop more jobs and oversee them, training and supervising student assistant, and creating publicity materials and mailings.

    4. Volunteer Programs

    The Volunteer Program at CSUN, housed within the Career Center of the Student Affairs division, currently serves as a liaison for community agencies seeking CSUN volunteers and for students (either as part of a group or as individuals) seeking service opportunities. Its primary function is as a referral service to link students with appropriate, meaningful activities that provide a service to the community. It also provides resource assistance to agencies seeking volunteers and creates partnerships with agencies to provide one-day and ongoing volunteer opportunities for CSUN students.

    The Volunteer Program currently relies on the voluntary nature of its activities and is structured accordingly. It would need to address more liability issues, add more substantive service options for students, increase its relationships with community sites, and more closely coordinate with other offices who share responsibility for implementation and oversight of the proposed requirement.

    The Volunteer Program will be most affected in the area of outreach and site regulation. It will need to spend a significant amount of time developing, approving, regulating and managing sites for students. There will also be additional needs in working with students to make sure they know what options they have and to find placements that will complement their academic and career paths as they meet the proposed requirement. In addition, it will need to assist the Office of Community Service Learning in locating sites for students who cannot complete their service at sites arranged by the professor. In addition, criteria must be developed for host sites, surveys of clubs should be performed, agency assessment procedures institutionalized, and interactive databases developed and publicized across campus.

    Committee:

      Bonnie Campbell, Civil & Manufacturing Engineering

      Robert Hanff, Associated Students President

      Christie Logan, (Chair); Communication Studies

      Maureen Rubin, Journalism

      Stella Theodoulou, Political Science

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

Last Updated: April 29, 2008