College student labor

As part of a massive reorganization of state government, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants public college students to put in 16 hours of “community service.” Apparently, it was his wife Maria Shriver’s idea. In the LA Times, columnist George Skelton rips the mandatory service plan.

Look, taxpayers don’t “subsidize” students as much as they invest in California’s own future by providing affordable educations that develop a skilled, innovative workforce. It’s one of the things that made California great. Weather alone didn’t do it.

. . . It’s one thing for a kid with wealthy parents and free time to be ordered into community service. It’s another to force some 28-year-old, return-to-college waitress with a kid at home to devote any time at all to this feel-good, ivory tower concept. The average age of community college students, incidentally, is 28.

Students’ free labor will be worth $192 million, says the governor’s commission. That’s nonsense. Monitoring hours of service will cost far more than the value of students’ labor.

I spent two hours Wednesday helping put together a meal for the homeless. We could have done the job with half the volunteers. It’s even worse when a bunch of kids show up to get community service credit. Most jobs can’t be done well by drop-ins.

About Joanne


  1. Bad idea, Arnold.

    My kid volunteered at a cat shelter this summer, and will continue to go back on Saturdays after school starts. (She set this up herself, and because she’s very shy, I’m proud of her.) It’s fun petting the kitties, but it’s not fun dealing with several pounds of litter and so forth. They have 170 cats, and it’s three hours of hard labor every time she goes. But she’s done it, and she is doing it, because she chose to do it. If she was doing it because she was being made to do it, I think a lot of the joy of volunteering would be gone.

  2. Good to see at least one person recognizes that community service requirements are more trouble than they’re worth. I had a big scuffle about getting my own community service hours approved– even though one of my friends who had graduated a year earlier and had done service with me had no problem. Where was I helping out? A church.

    There’s a wide range of activities which I consider to be the most legitimate kind of community service– helping someone move in, taking a look at their car, and so on– things that really tie a community together, which are not creditable at all.

  3. mike from oregon says:

    A couple things to note:

    First, I totally agree with Laura. Forced community service work is the pits. Hopefully the child/person is taught when they are young that giving (in any form) is the highest good. However, forcing an adult (ages 18 and over) to do something usually doesn’t work very well. Instead of mandatory, it should be a three to one, or four to one pay back. You can get X amount of school hours paid (tuition forgiveness) in exchange for X amount of hours doing a community service. The service would have to be done BEFORE the credit is given.

    Second, rather than set up, yet another, huge system to set up, catalog the hours, verify, etc. It should be something that would be easy to track and set up through existing organizations that need the help. The idea of community service should be expanded to include many of the services that churches provide (some already are, some are not).

    Giving some kind of credit and recognition for community service would be a good thing. Forcing it upon people is NOT a good thing.

  4. Richard Brandshaft says:

    What job community service job has a learning curve of less than 16 hours? Ms. Jacobs is so on point (“Monitoring hours of service will cost far more than the value of students’ labor.”) that even proposing something this silly should be a headline-making major gaff.

    If my memory serves (meaning I’m too lazy to look it up) Milton Friedman said that providing a college education is one of the few government activities that explicitly makes money in the long run. (Of course Friedman being Friedman, he thought that meant the process should be privatized.) Aside from conservative’s normal penny-wise-pound-foolish short sighted false economies, conservatives started picking on college students because college students opposed the Vietnam war. They never stopped. Conservatives, like Mullahs, know how to nurse a grudge.

  5. Mad Scientist says:

    Hey Richard, some liberals also know how to hold a grudge.

  6. Sigivald says:

    Richard: What are you smoking, and where can I get an ounce?

    WHat do “conservative’s” have to do with this, or their economics, or their supposed dislike of college students?

    The most I’ve heard those evil conservatives complain about is stupidity in school administration and teaching practices; they certainly don’t, in my experience, “pick on” students, let alone because of a 30-year-old grudge.

    (If you’re somehow trying to imply that Schwarzenegger is a “conservative”, well… maybe that works in the Bay, but it doesn’t fly in the real world. Nor do I think his stupid plan is related to any grudges about Vietnam, but rather clueless feel-goodism.)

  7. There are various objections to mandatory community service (for graduation, for scholarships, etc). This is not a new idea, not is it opposed strictly by the right or by the left.

    = conscription and/or slavery, in many peoples’ minds.
    =indoctrination into socialist values
    =contradicts the goals of community service (forced volunteering isn’t voluntary)

    What follows is a sample of thought.
    Summary: High schools are the scene of a new conscription — not a military one, but a spiritual one. Students are being forced to serve others to meet community service requirements. They must perform as “beasts of burden” so as not to develop pride in themselves.
    The battle to increase student civic-mindedness is being waged on two fronts: Mandatory community service and improved civics education. Concern that today’s schoolchildren are not learning the basics about democracy and leadership has led to a push for more civics education in the nation’s classrooms. One increasingly popular method for doing that, called service learning, combines mandatory community service with related classroom activities.
    All Mr. Reinhard wants is for the schools to go back to teaching algebra and reading and to leave the upbringing of his son into a responsible citizen up to him and his wife.
    Community Service: Mandatory or Voluntary?

    School districts struggle to find the best 
    approach for bringing a real-world aspect to learning.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Mandatory volunteerism! Right up there with compulsary libertarianism.

  9. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (Maria Shriver’s cousin)while Lt. Governor of Maryland, instituted a community service requirement for high school graduation.

    One of the “commmunity service” projects the students participated in this year was to leave school for the afternoon, bus to the state capitol (paid for by the schools) and attend a rally (organised by the teachers union) protesting a reduction in the state school budget.

    Can you say conflict of interest?

  10. John from OK says:

    Mandatory service is not service at all. It is a job, usually an easy, unproductive job. Many of these students have jobs already. These are demanded and paid according to free marktet needs (Free Market: something that makes us morally inferior to the French but still leaves us filthy rich in comparison.)

    Our community could use unskilled laborers to help schoolchildren, pick up roadside garbage, etc. But we also need them to work at the grocery store, MacDonalds, etc. We also need semi-skilled workers in semi-skilled jobs. In fact, the wages of those jobs usually indicate their marginal benefit to the economy. I know this sounds hard to believe, but the results speak for themselves. And the warm, gushy feeling that is the alleged social benefit of “volunteer” work is mitigated by the fact you simply don’t have to work as hard at these jobs.

    A few years ago, Americorps was reduced. A program in Stockton, CA was cut. That program featured 4 “volunteers” you would drive school children to nursing homes in order to talk to the old people. The cost to reinstate the program: $100,000 per year. That’s $25,000 per “volunteer”. When I was in Jr High we had a similar program. I do not know who drove the children to the nursing homes, but I know it didn’t cost $25,000 per driver.

    Part of the political argument above might be due to the fact that many Republicans have not caught on to what is essentially a misallocation of labor. The feel-good apsects of mandatory “service” overshadow the fact that these are really new government jobs. They tend to be grossly inefficient and unwisely managed.

  11. When I was attending the local community college, many teachers had a service learning component in their lesson plans. Some made it optional- if you performed x number of hours at an approved location (something which could loosely be associated with the subject matter), and write a paper on it, then you could forego doing certain assignments, or get extra credit. Other teachers, however, made it mandatory, and you couldn’t use the same service learning you were doing for another class, or volunteer work already being performed in their free time. So if one teacher required 15 hours, another required 10, and a third required 20 hours per semester, and no teacher accepted any other subject’s hours, then you were faced with 45 hours of ‘volunteer’ work to get credit. Some students enjoyed it, but many hated it, and even more so after the experiences were over.

  12. Richard Nieporent says:

    Mandatory volunteerism is an oxymoron. I too live in the state of Maryland where this has been instituted for all High School students. I believe they have to put in 80 hours of “voluntary” work to graduate. As was noted by teej, it was also a Kennedy who pushed this program through in Maryland. While I am all in favor of volunteerism, it has got to be voluntary! Otherwise, all we are doing is implementing a forced labor program. But I guess for the Socialists among us, that is a good thing.

  13. Walter E. Wallis says:

    We already “volunteer” almost half our earnings to the government. That’s enough.

  14. Mike Rentner says:

    The more obvious objection in my mind is that the work that these “volunteer” slaves are required to perform is work that someone else could have been getting paid to do. I would really hate for my employer to tell me that my job is no longer needed because slaves are now performing it under government coercion.

  15. jeff wright says:

    Arnold is just a joke, flailing around for whatever feel-good formulation will placate the masses. Sort of like his in-laws. Or his predecessor.

    I may have to live in the state he “governs” for a little while longer, but at least I can say I didn’t vote for him. My candidate, Tom McClintock—he of the tough love prescription—warned us. But, no, Californians opted for the easy Arnold way. Now we will have budget deficits forever and will have to listen to his brand of snake oil until he gets tired of the job.

    And as a warning to all of the rest of you, there’s a senator from Utah (Hatch) who wants to amend the Constitution so Arnold can enjoy even more upward mobility.

  16. T.U. Alum. says:

    My law school had a community service requirement, without which you could not graduate no matter how well you did in the *ahem* academic pursuits.
    The requirement was not odious, only 20 hours, but I found the implication breathtakingly condescending. The school seemed to assume that since we aspired to be professionals we would not have any compassion or sympathy for the underprivileged unless we were forced to do it. They seemed to believe that we were all from privileged backgrounds and were ignorant of the workaday problems of the poor.
    I joked that for my community service, I taught two children of a working mother how to walk and potty-trained one of them. They were, in fact, my own children.


  1. Involuntary

    Some time ago, I vented a bit about the idea of a forced community service component to college education. Well, despite the repeated declarations of saner voices, the topic is back again. Liz pointed me to a discussion at