Should High School Students be Required to Complete Community Service Hours Before they Graduate?


Sarah Jannings

LAKE MICHIGAN CATHOLIC- Some schools are making it mandatory for students to take part in and complete community service hours before they are eligible to graduate. A student now, may be required to complete 40 hours of community service with a government entity or a nonprofit organization to get a diploma.

There are certainly benefits to mandatory community service work, but there are also drawbacks.  By requiring students to complete community service hours in high school, we are not only ensuring good and informed citizens, but also a more developed economic and social climate.

“I love community service!  It’s so important to give back to the communities around you,” said senior Adriana Nerio.

Students who make a commitment to volunteering in their community gain exposure to people from different cultures, backgrounds, and ages.  A student who chooses to work with the elderly can gain invaluable life lessons that are learned from sharing time with the older generations.  

“I believe community service is a necessity.  So many people are less fortunate or not as able-bodied as I am.  Providing help to those individuals really makes a difference in their lives and makes me so much more grateful for what I do have or am able to do,” said Mrs. Vegter.

Depending on what community service the student takes part in, they learn what life is like for the less fortunate and how they can play a role in providing for their needs.  Community service also helps students build character and prompt future community involvement.

According to Cindi Pearce from, “Self esteem and self worth improve and the students become more politically aware and active” by taking part in community service.  There is also a sense of social responsibility that is gained from community service projects.

“I have been very active in community service especially freshman year in which I completed over forty hours.  My favorite volunteering experience was coaching the University of Pacific youth baseball camp. It was a week long and took place during 100 degree California July which was fun.  I had a blast throwing batting practice for the kids and helping them grow as ball players. I learned that everyone can find a volunteer opportunity that is fun for them and helps others,” said junior John Mansfield.
Community service projects can provide networking opportunities for future employment and students may feel compelled to continue their actions even after exceeding the required amount of hours.  Finally, community service helps to boost academic achievement.

“I have been volunteering at the local clinic, migrant head start, and school community service projects.  What I have learned from this experience is by giving a little bit of your time can make a big difference in someone’s life,” said senior Adriana Nerio.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement indicate that civic activities have positive effects on high school academic progress across racial/ethnic groups.” They also find that: Students who participated in school required community service were twenty-two percentage points more likely to graduate from college than those that did not and were more likely to have improved their reading, math, science, and history scores.  

Similarly, students who performed voluntary community service were nineteen percentage points more likely to graduate from college than those that did not.  Some will say that mandatory community service hours put too much stress on students, cause them to lose focus on their academics and standardized tests, it’s for the wrong reasons, and that in general it is just not voluntary.

“Community service should be optional except as a form of punishment for juvenile delinquents, criminals, and illegal immigrants.  These people should be forced to fix roads, clean up garbage, and other stuff,” said sophomore Matt Warner.

According to Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan’s cognitive evaluation study, when students or any individuals perceive that they are being controlled externally, the natural human response is to lose enthusiasm for the project and toward the behaviors that are being promoted.  Mandated service-learning requirements may or may not be perceived as external control, but if they are, this perception can alter the student’s desire in the future to continue being socially active.

Additionally, when a student goes to school full time, is involved in extracurricular activities and also works, the time that is needed to participate in a community service project may place quite a burden on the student.  However, the benefits of community service hours extend far beyond the walls of a school.

“I do a lot more community service now that my daughter is able to help.  For example, we volunteer at the Art Fair and serve breakfast at the Fire Station during their pancake breakfasts.  Currently my daughter has started her own Dancers Against Cancer chapter at her dance studio. She raised over $1100 to donate to Dancers Against Cancer (it’s an organization that financially supports dancers, their families and choreographers who have been diagnosed with cancer),” said Mrs. Vegter.

Some students will ask why they have to perform community service hours when they should be asking what community service hours will do for them.  Students who make a commitment to volunteering in their community will gain many life lessons from a variety of people, build their self-esteem and character along with becoming more socially active in their community, and have a more likely chance of going to college and receiving higher tests scores on state mandated tests.  

As James Cash Penney once said, “It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.”