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EDITORIAL: Community service graduation requirement would hinder more than help

Rutgers students should receive class credit for community service, but it should not be mandatory

Rutgers should create a course that awards one to two credits for community service related to a person's major.  – Photo by RDNE Stock project / Pexels

In University President Jonathan Holloway's recent Stakeholder's Address on October 24, he mentioned an op-ed he had written for The New York Times in 2021, titled "To Unite a Divided America, Make People Work for It." The piece was included in a series that gathered radical solutions to rekindle the so-called American spirit.

Holloway's proposed solution was mandating an obligatory year of either community or military service for citizens to complete before the age of 25 with "no exceptions." In his eyes, his solution would teach Americans how to once again exist and converse with those different from them.

"Some have asked if Rutgers should make service a degree requirement," Holloway said in the Stakeholders Address. "To be honest, that is not my decision to make."

But he pledged his commitment to advocating for limitless service opportunities so that Scarlet Knights can participate, if they wish, without issue.

While universities encouraging community service seems like a well-intentioned concept, requiring community service at a large University like Rutgers, with more than 48,000 undergraduate students, would be a logistical nightmare. Community service opportunities in the local community would undoubtedly fill up, leading to overall panic and disorganization.

If there is high demand and not enough supply, many students may be inclined to cut corners by exaggerating the number of hours they completed or faking them altogether. Though it may be inspiring to imagine a world where an entire nation or university could participate in community service, this is not practical, especially at Rutgers.

Additionally, many Rutgers students are working jobs while earning their degree in order to make ends meet. Students who specifically work 15 hours or more a week are reportedly 20 percent less likely to graduate as compared to university students who do not have a job, according to Fortune Magazine.

Creating a community service requirement would further disadvantage these students by adding an additional hurdle to receiving their diplomas.

Approximately 43 percent of undergraduates who are enrolled as full-time students have a job, and among part-time students, the percentage is even larger at 81 percent. In 2022, this would correlate to approximately 22,000 undergraduate students across all three Rutgers campuses.

In addition to this, centering community service around the person completing the service takes the focus away from those who need to be helped.

Holloway boldly claimed in his op-ed that his idea "could change a life, could open a mind and could save a democracy." In this specific statement, he is solely focusing on how service would foster the character development of those who participate.

What matters most is that those who need the help get what they need, whether that be food, shelter or other basic necessities or services, not the completion of students' graduation requirements.

Additionally, while we would like to believe that all people would be motivated to participate out of the goodness of their hearts, this would be naive. Instead of requiring community service for graduation, it would be wiser to incentivize students with class credit.

Similar to internship and research opportunities that are awarded credit, a community service class of one to two credits could be created. The community service offerings would align with students' majors. For example, a nursing student could volunteer at a blood drive, a marketing student could help a nonprofit with advertising or a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences student could work on a farm.

This would motivate students to gain hands-on experience related to their studies while simultaneously contributing to their credit requirements for graduation and assisting the community.

If a class of this nature were to be created, the assignments should foster thoughtful reflection that touches on both the value of service as well as its connection to their potential profession. Instead of constant assignments, one final paper or presentation to an advisor would suffice.

Ultimately, community service should not add an additional barrier to students trying to complete their degree. If community service is presented as an attractive and worthwhile option, more students will be motivated to genuinely participate, and more community members will be helped as a result.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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