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At least the state study group had something sensible to...

August 14, 2004

At least the state study group had something sensible to say about kindergarten. Its smug attack on public college students has no place in a report on reshaping government and is a bad idea in any context.

In the last couple of years, the state has more than doubled fees for community college students and cut course offerings. Students commute from campus to campus to pick up enough classes and work extra hours to afford the fees -- and, in many cases, to support families. The last thing they need is a group of uninformed elitists telling all public college students that they're sucking the public trough dry and should be required to perform community service in exchange.

Yes, 16 hours of service isn't a lot -- which is another problem. That amount of community work is meaningless. The report spins silly fantasies about $192 million worth of free services the state would receive, all for the tiny cost of informing students of the requirement and logging their hours into their records. Forgotten are the expenses of determining which volunteer work will count, providing opportunities for students who have no transportation, checking that the work was performed and dealing with appeals. The study group was supposed to streamline government, not create a new bureaucracy.

College students shouldn't feel singled out. Adults also get snooty treatment in the report, which chastises Californians because only one in four does community service, because they volunteer "too little" time and because they focus on "narrow" interests (that means churches and schools). Never mind that those evaluations don't take into account many kinds of volunteer work or the people whose energy is spent juggling dual incomes and multiple jobs. As it happens, Californians who do volunteer spend 165 hours a year at it, significantly more than people elsewhere in the nation.

With Californians contributing the equivalent of a month of full-time work each year to religious institutions, education and other nonprofit causes, it's hard to feel too apologetic about their supposed laziness and bad values.

Encouraging civic participation is a fine idea. In that case, create college courses in which students get credit for doing meaningful community service and putting some thought and research into the topic. That would also help them get their degrees on time -- which would save the state a lot more money than conscripted public service.

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