Earlier this month I had the privilege of representing Service Year Alliance at two of Campus Compact’s Civic Action Planning Institutes. Over 400 colleges and universities have signed Campus Compact’s 30th Anniversary Action Statement and made commitments to develop campus civic action plans in the year ahead. These institutes were designed to give senior academic administrators, and faculty and staff responsible for civic engagement and learning, the opportunity to share resources and inspiration for crafting their civic action plans. Campus Compact has endorsed a year of service as one component a campus could adopt in their plan.
The action statement includes five affirmations that advance the public purposes of higher education, and one statement particularly resonated with me: We prepare our students for lives of engaged citizenship, with the motivation and capacity to deliberate, act, and lead in pursuit of the public good. A service year has the power to do just that — prepare students for lives of engaged citizenship. At a time when many feel disenfranchised by the political environment we find ourselves in, it is important to consider ways in which colleges and universities can foster opportunities to empower students and give them the tools to contribute to their communities. This type of engagement is one critical way to ensure a healthy democracy.
According to the 2005 AmeriCorps Alumni Outcomes Survey, 82% of alumni who did a service year agreed that they felt a strong personal attachment to their community, were aware of community needs, felt an obligation to contribute to their community, planned or were actively involved in community issues, and voted in elections. Additionally, almost 80% of alumni indicated that they definitely or probably had civic self-efficacy.
Colleges and universities can embrace a service year in a variety of ways— from recognizing a service year in admissions and financial aid, to promoting service year opportunities in career counseling sessions, or by creating a service year on their campus. Many institutions already have infrastructures in place to move forward with creating a service year through existing service-learning, study abroad, and internship programs. However it became clear throughout discussions at the institute that capacity is not always enough. We need to help each other in a variety of ways by sharing resources, best practices, and in cultivating a common language. As champions of engagement — and service years specifically — we must be “first language speakers” of our work and use opportunities to speak about it with others who are less engaged.
Thank you to Campus Compact for including us in their institute, to Andrew Seligsohn, President of Campus Compact, for introducing the concept of first language speakers of this work, and to the colleges and universities who posed great questions and generated rich dialogue throughout the institutes.