President-elect Barack Obama recently announced some specifics regarding his education plan. Among marked reforms to the primary and secondary education systems, Obama has proposed a $4,000-per-year credit for students who attend public universities, provided they commit to and fulfill 100 hours of community service that year.
The service requirement has been highly contentious among many current students. Many believe Obama should work to lower the costs of education across the board. They contend that the credit system is unnecessary, and that he isn't fulfilling his campaign promises by including conditions. This opinion is misguided and socially irresponsible.
The purpose of government is to facilitate the improvement of the welfare of its constituents. At the same time, it's the responsibility of those constituents to play by the rules created by that government, generally by voting, paying taxes, obeying laws and being otherwise socially responsible.
When students express the desire for one-sided benefits, they ignore their side of the social compact. It's like expecting the government to provide roads, hospitals and infrastructure without paying any taxes. Countries with abundant oil - think Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia - can do it, but the United States cannot.
So we have to be efficient. The idea is to better allocate the government's limited resources; by including a service requirement, students may better improve and provide for their individual communities. This community assistance may help the government recoup some of the cost of making public higher education more affordable.
This program is still a step in the right direction for students who may have been on the bubble - unsure about whether they should go college and whether they could afford it. An extra $4,000 each year could pay completely for two years at a community college and would assuredly take the bite out of state tuition.
Questions do still remain. Will these community service hours be evaluated and regulated properly? Could there be some provision for good students who need other loans but can't get them due to a bad family financial situation or a bad loan market? We hope Obama will soon present a more nuanced program that will help expedite any reforms that will begin when he takes office Jan. 20.