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Groups Back Community Service for Young People

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Washington--Asserting that Americans need to rejuvenate their sense of civic responsibility, the Education Commission of the States last week announced a joint project with 75 college and university presidents to encourage students' participation in community service.

"Higher education has a long history of preparing youth for responsible leadership," said Frank Newman, president of the ecs But student interest in serving the larger society has diminished over the last decade, he said, because educators have failed to provide them with the leadership, resources, and assistance they need to become involved.

The aim of ecs's "Project for Public and Community Service," Mr. Newman said, will be to make civic involvement a central part of students' college experience. The project will encourage colleges and universities to play a stronger role in that process.

The project is co-chaired by Howard Swearer, president of Brown University; the Rev. Timothy S. Healy, S.J., president of Georgetown University; and Donald Kennedy, president of Stanford University.

Interest Exists

According to Father Healy, student interest in community service exists, but colleges must tap it. The problem, he said, is how to create appropriate avenues for such involvement.

Mr. Swearer added that, to date, postsecondary institutions have "not done a very good job" of recognizing students' contributions to the community.

"Public service suffers greatly from a lack of information and a lack of status," said Mr. Newman. "Few students are aware of service opportunities in their own communities. Most universities do not have co-curricular service organizations on campus, and few institutions do enough to encourage public service."

Among the initiatives colleges could undertake to correct these deficiencies, he said, are the establishment of campus centers for volunteer programs with paid staff coordinators, the provision of adequate information on public-service careers through career-counseling offices, and the awarding of fellowships to students interested in conducting public-service projects during their summer vacations.

College students' interest in community activities is growing, according to Mr. Swearer. He cited as an example Brown University's student-volunteer program, which in-volves some 600 students annually in public-service activities. At Harvard University, the ecs noted, the number of students doing volunteer work at the Phillip Brooks House, a volunteer on-campus program, has jumped in five years from 200 to 300 students to more than 1,000.

High-School Programs

Efforts to involve students in public service also exist at the high-school level, said Father Healy, and need to be expanded.

The Atlanta Public Schools, for example, now require high-school students to complete 75 hours of ac-credited community service as a graduation requirement. And a 1984 survey funded by the National Institute of Education found that community-service programs are offered by some 27 percent of all public and private high schools.

In addition, the Independent Sector, a Washington-based coalition of some 650 national voluntary-service organizations, has formed a committee to encourage community service among students at all grade levels and to develop model curricula that emphasize the role of volunteerism in American society.

"There is a feeling that if we're trying to instill a sense of service and an awareness of how important service is in our society, then the younger one starts, the better," said Brian O'Connell, the organization's president.

The ecs project, which will have its headquarters at Brown University, will:

Establish a public-service network to match students seeking service opportunities with local and regional service agencies.

Assist in creating on-campus public-service centers.

Improve access to public-service information through a national information clearinghouse.

Develop proposals to encourage public service through federal student-aid programs.

Conduct a survey of public-service activities at the colleges and universities participating in the project. The survey will include an inventory of institutional policies and programs related to financial assistance for students who perform community service.

To date, the project has received grants from the Atlantic Richfield, Ford, and Johnson Foundations.

National Conference Held

In a related development, some 100 officials involved with community-service projects throughout the nation met at Catholic University here last week to discuss strategies for developing a national community-service policy.

The meeting was sponsored by the Youth Policy Institute in collaboration with several other community-service and youth organizations. Participants included the directors of local conservation corps in Oakland, San Francisco, New York City, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington state, as well as representatives from education organizations, youth groups, and public foundations.

Strategies discussed ranged from establishing a voluntary national community-service program that would be a prerequisite to receiving federal financial aid for postsecondary education to simply coordinating an exchange of information among existing community-service groups.

A key issue still unresolved, said a spokesman for the Youth Policy Institute, is whether the primary purpose of community service is to promote the idea that every citizen has a duty to serve the community, or to help disadvantaged youths who otherwise would not be able to find a job.

Staff Writer William Snider contributed to this article.

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