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editorial

Colleges are the new frontier for national-service movement

Students who take a year off between high school and college earn better grades and have more confidence in their career paths. But fewer than 2 percent of American high school seniors take a year off to work, volunteer, or travel overseas. All too often, these growth experiences are only available to children of the wealthy.

That’s why Tufts University should be commended for an innovative new program that aims to make it financially possible for interested students to do a year of full-time domestic or international public service before they begin their four years on campus. Known as Tufts 1+4, the program is a key component of the university’s 10-year strategic plan. It will place about 50 Tufts students in year-long, full-time unpaid positions at respected organizations, such as City Year or LIFT, starting in 2015.

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It’s a win-win: Financially strapped nonprofits will get extra assistance, while promising young people will gain experience doing challenging, meaningful work. Participating students will almost certainly get a leg up in a tough job market. And while other freshmen don’t know a soul when they set foot on campus, Tufts 1+4 students will have already forged lasting friendships by the time they enter the classroom.

Ultimately, the goal is to foster a culture on campus where all students are “committed to life-long public engagement,” regardless of which career they choose, said Alan Solomont, the former US ambassador to Spain who is now dean of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts.

That attitude puts Tufts at the forefront of a broader effort to make public service an integral part of the college experience. The new program was born after Tufts provost David Harris attended a national service summit last summer put on by the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project, which aims to spark a movement to make national service a rite of passage. At the conference, General Stanley McChrystal, the group’s most well-known spokesman, challenged universities to help make it possible for every young American to serve, if not in the military, then at a nonprofit organization.

“If every person that’s age 25 and older meets and the first question is ‘Where did you serve?’. . . I think it would be really powerful,” he said.

The country has a long way to go before that vision becomes a reality. But in ways big and small, universities are answering that call. Tulane just announced that it will provide year-long, full-time fellowships to graduates who commit to a full year of service in New Orleans. And William & Mary is developing a “Citizen Engagement Corps” for its young graduates. Universities that join their ranks are not just helping their own students, they are benefiting the nation as a whole.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the first name of the Tufts provost. His name is David Harris.

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