Mandatory Public Service?
A new bill could force young adults to do two years of
What is it?
A new bill named the Universal Service Act of 2003,
introduced by Democratic House of Representatives members
Charles Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan and
Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, was the most recent
mandatory-service proposal considered by Congress. Americans
would be required to complete two years of service for the
nation between the ages of 18 and 26 in one of various
This service could include military time or active
participation in programs such as Peace Corps, Teach for
America or AmeriCorps. The president would determine the
number of people needed and the means of selection.
Deferments would be limited to those completing high school,
up to the age of 20, with no exemptions for college or
graduate students. The bill has not yet been acted upon.
Most recent proposals would provide some sort of payment for
young people's service. One plan allows for four years of
college tuition in exchange for two years of service.
Participants who do not choose college might be able to apply
for funds to pay for job-training programs or to help start a
While many young people volunteer to join the U.S. military
as an act of self-service, other programs such as AmeriCorps
also draw more than 50,000 volunteers annually. In addition
to tutoring children, building homes, cleaning up the
environment and helping communities through disaster relief,
AmeriCorps members work with 2,100 nonprofits, public
agencies, and faith-based organizations. Other service
programs, such as Teach for America, work toward eliminating
educational inequality throughout the United States. Young
people generally make up most of the volunteer staff who
spend two years in low-income, urban areas to teach children.
“I’ve actually thought about joining
AmeriCorps,” said sophomore Jessica Keough. “I
think it’s a great program our country benefits from.
Service like that teaches you so many things. I just think
the main reason why people should really consider something
like AmeriCorps is because it opens your eyes. It teaches you
to be selfless and to appreciate what you have. It’s
also just nice to give back to those who are in need.”
“Teach for America...is an opportunity that people
don’t seem to know much about,” said sophomore
Hayley Schools. “I truly admire those individuals that
give up two years of their life to help children succeed.
However, I don’t feel mandatory service is necessary.
As soon as I graduate college, I want to get out in the world
and start working.
Who’s requiring service now?
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse reported that
5.5 million high school and middle school students are
engaged in service learning. Some administrators are now
requiring students to complete a certain number of
community-service hours in order to graduate high school.
These include states such as Maryland and Minnesota, and
cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia.
Deborah Brannock, director of Counseling Services at Owings
Mills High School in Baltimore, said she was torn on the
subject of required service. “I do believe that there
are individuals who just don’t have the desire to give
in that way,” she said. Owings Mills High School has a
system to incorporate service-learning hours into the
classroom in order for the students to accomplish the 75
hours needed in order to graduate.
What are people saying?
Although there are many reasons for mandatory service, many
people still oppose it, primarily because they believe in the
right to choose how to live their lives, which is one opinion
of people from the Elon community who were recently
“I think it should be optional because by making
service mandatory, it would take your freedom of choice
away,” said Sheila Lackey, an employee of the Coming
Attractions Beauty salon in Elon. “It’s just a
Local resident Linda Stitt remembered the draft during the
Vietnam War. “I think it’s just an awful
idea," she said. "I have a lot of respect for the
people who do and are involved with service projects, but I
do not think people should be forced into something they
don’t want to do.”
Elon Police Chief Lavell Lovette was in high school when the
draft was mandatory. "My opinion is that people between
the ages of 18 and 20 need to go to college or the military
or some sort of service in order to grow, mature and become
responsible,” she said.
This article was contributed by Ashley Busch, Elizabeth
Colquitt, R.J. Fenn, Jessica Frizen, Rachel Hinson, Leanne
Jernigan, Abby Joyce, Tim Rink, Nathan Rode, Ashley Shelton,
Paul Skrickus, Katelan Steele and Mike Vivenzio. The story
content was edited to fit this layout.