Obama's College Service Programs.

I have already posted about Senator Barack Obama's proposal that all public middle and high school students perform community service, such as picking up trash, for 50 hours every year [typo corrected]. [In a later post, I will point to most of new service "Corps" that Barack is proposing, many of which would be open to college students.]


There has been little discussion so far of his program for college students. The first thing to note about it is that it is voluntary, though the funding is so extensive (and expensive) that almost all college students will be induced to do 100 hours of service each year at an effective salary of $40 an hour tax free.

Obama proposes to achieve almost universal service for the nation's 17 million college students by offering a refundable annual tax credit of $4,000 toward college tuition. This program should cost about $65-100 billion a year, perhaps more if it substantially increases the number of students attending college. In return for the credit, college students will be required to perform 100 hours of community service every year for four years. By offering college students a hefty $40 an hour, Mr. Obama will ensure that nearly every college student will participate in his program, without actually making their service mandatory.

So, if a student graduates from college, he will have done on average about 11 years of community service, at a minimum of 50-100 hours each year. Almost all college graduates will have spent a total workweek equivalent of at least four to five months of their lives working in Mr. Obama's "national security force," starting at the tender age of 11.


The school service programs give context to the much talked about comments of Michelle Obama back in February.

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

I had seen these words quoted many times, but I thought them either taken out of context or just Michelle Obama's own quirky interpretation of what she thought her husband expected of Americans. What I hadn't realized until a day or two ago is that her speech was delivered to college students at UCLA. That Michelle Obama was talking to students makes her words dovetail nicely with Barack Obama's service programs for this segment of society.

So Michelle's vision was one insider's view of Barack Obama's mandatory service programs for all public middle school and high school students and the nearly universal voluntary service program for college students.

Essentially all of the factual claims in the quoted passage of Michelle Obama's speech are true. He will "require you to work." He will "demand . . . that you move out of your comfort zones. . . . And that you engage." And it's fair to say that "Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved . . . ." The rest of her comments (about becoming better, less cynical, and more informed) indicate her aspirations for what service will accomplish, and reflect pretty standard views of people in the service movement and of people in the left-wing educational reform movement to bring communities into the schools and schools into the community.


Commenters about existing mandatory service programs often claim that public schools have too narrow a view of service, often excluding service by Boy Scouts and churches. Obama hasn't yet said much about what doesn't count as service, but he has said enough to cause me to worry.

Obama proposes to move from college work-study to "Serve-Study." He plans to mandate that 25% of college work-study jobs be directed away from working on campus, "such as in libraries and dining halls," to working in the community, eventually hoping to raise that proportion to 50% of all college work-study employment.

Thus, Obama wouldn't count as "service" my wife's college work-study job (years ago) as a weekend librarian in the University of Chicago's School of Social Work, but if my wife had done one of Barack Obama's preferred tasks, picking up trash in the slum behind the School, Obama would count that as service.

Reasonable people may differ on whether aiding in the education of social work students is more valuable than picking up trash. Yet in my wife's student days, picking up trash would probably have done little good in the long run because (as the Boston Globe revealed) the government-supported housing projects developed or managed by Obama's clients, friends, and biggest contributors within 500 yards of the back of Chicago's School of Social Work were allowed to deteriorate, pretty much destroying most of the improvements made in that neighborhood.