Yesterday, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts (where I work) held a Symposium on Service and Leadership with retired General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded US forces in Afghanistan and who turns out to be gifted and engaging speaker. At the Symposium, “Tufts 1+4” was announced. This will be a program to encourage incoming undergraduates to spend a year doing full-time service (domestic or international) before they come to campus.
Some students already do this. We heard inspiring stories from two current Tufts undergrads who had served, respectively, in the South Bronx and in Ecuador before their first years here. They both testified that their work in disadvantaged communities made them hungry to learn about social issues in college. The idea is to make a service “bridge year” much more common and more equitable. Tufts will address financial need. Making the program selective and prestigious should remove any stigma that might accompany a decision to delay college.
For General McChrystal and the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project (which the General chairs), Tufts 1+4 is an important demonstration project. They are trying to make serious, voluntary national service an expected right of passage. They don’t think that the federal government will pay for all the service slots any time soon, so they want to construct an array of service opportunities through federal and state programs, colleges, and nonprofits. I have long argued for that kind of bottom-up, relatively incremental approach because I think quality is essential. If the government suddenly created millions of service positions, they would be filled by eager young adults (there is plenty of demand), but the quality of the experience would be mixed. Our responsibility is to do Tufts 1+4 well so that it can spread.
For Tufts, another motivation is to recruit a diverse group of incoming undergraduates who are more seasoned–and better prepared to consider social issues in the classroom–thanks to their intense service experiences. In that sense, Tufts 1+4 is an educational reform and an effort to strengthen the campus intellectual climate.
I am especially pleased that the Franklin Project is putting its emphasis on service as a learning opportunity for the people who serve. I have been involved in discussions of “service” since my undergraduate days. In fact, when I was in student government, we launched a program that paid students for summer service if they reported to their local alumni clubs. I have always argued that the service must address real problems or it won’t be valuable for those who serve, yet the main rationale is to enhance the civic skills, job and life skills, and social ethics of those who serve. We shouldn’t see service programs as a way to plant trees or tutor children, but as a powerful form of civic education. The main beneficiaries are those who enroll, which is why the experiences must be well designed and supported. Gen. McChrystal made the same argument rather explicitly yesterday at Tufts.