By Nicole West
A house bill filed in the 83rd Legislative session will require Texas undergraduates attending public institutions of higher education to complete 20 hours of community service before graduation.
Known as “Service to Texas,” HB 22 was recently referred to the Committee on Higher Education and is currently pending in committee as of March 6.
If passed, the bill will take effect Sept. 1 and apply only to first-time students enrolled in an institute of higher education after Sept. 1, 2014.
The bill was filed by State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
Martinez Fischer, who is also chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), said in an email that the bill’s purpose is to increase opportunities for students to volunteer in community service throughout their years in college.
“Volunteerism and public service has shaped every part of my life,” Martinez Fischer said. “Working toward a common good is integral to the development of the next generation of Texas leaders.”
Martinez Fischer represents house district 116 of Bexar County in San Antonio.
The bill proposes that students pursuing a bachelor’s or certificate from an undergraduate program requiring at least 60 semester hours from an institute of higher education are required to perform 20 hours of unpaid community service.
In his response to The Mesquite, Martinez Fischer cited a 2012 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which concludes volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds in the US at 18.9 percent.
“Public service and philanthropic work molds our leaders in ways we cannot measure or predict,” Martinez Fischer said.
At Texas A&M-San Antonio, the average age of students is 32, according to Fall 2012 data released by Academic Affairs.
The Bureau of Labor statistics states 31.6 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds were most likely to volunteer in 2012.
Accounting junior Luis Martinez said the bill “would be a good thing for college students,” adding that it will expose students to the community.
In advance of an interview, a digital link to the full bill was provided to Jolene Des Roches, director of student life and wellness.
She said, in a follow up phone interview, she can see the benefits of community service for students who are continuing their education.
“I think it’s an important opportunity for students to learn civic engagement,” Des Roches said.
As a student, Martinez Fischer said he gained valuable experience through public service.
“When I was in college, I worked and volunteered for the Attorney General. I learned more there in just a short time, than I did in dozens of other classes,” he said. “I can say without exaggeration that opportunity lead to me to service in the Legislature.”
The bill states that each institute will develop a list of approved public service organizations that include diverse activities and viewpoints. Students will also be able to propose an organization not listed.
At A&M-San Antonio, members of student life said instilling community service in students can benefit the campus.
“We are in the process of really trying to step up our civic engagement opportunities on campus, “Des Roches said, adding that the office of students life is planning on more community service opportunities on this campus.
For example, students can earn community service hours by volunteering at the university’s Fall Fest and Jaguar Jam, Des Roches said.
Jonathan Mcewen, business administration management junior, said it should depend on the person whether they choose to participate in community service.
“This is coming from someone who instills community service in my kids,” he said.
What does this mean for students at Texas A&M-San Antonio?
Suppose HB 22 passes. If you are a student transferring to A&M-San Antonio from the Alamo Colleges, you are likely to complete your required community service while attending community college. That’s because, for the time being, this university only offers upper-division courses. Therefore, students who progress through the core curriculum (approximately 60-70 semester credit hours) at a lower division institution will need to complete the Service to Texas at that time.
Still, because of transfer agreements many students attend one of the local community colleges and A&M-San Antonio at the same time.
Since the bill will allow each institution to develop its own list of approved public service organizations, it will be handled differently on each campus.
Des Roches said some of the drawbacks are going to be for universities with “high population of commuter students”. It could be somewhat difficult, she said, but expects that it will still be successful.
Will the hours transfer to Texas A&M-San Antonio?
Martinez Fischer said that he is working with the Committee on Higher Education “to ensure that public service hours obtained by students transfer to any university they attend.”
His committee substitute has also created a hardship waiver to “ensure that the bill is not an obstacle to graduation for students or a burden to universities,” he said.
Section D of the bill states each school will assign an existing office to coordinate and monitor the Service to Texas program.
Should the bill pass, “I think it will definitely be under student affairs with collaboration of academic affairs,” Des Roches predicted.
She said it depends on how the university wants the program structured. Some universities have honors and engagement programs that are in charge of civic engagement and service learning. She said most often community service programs fall under student affairs.
Martinez Fischer filed 10 bills for the 83rd Legislative session.
For more information on HB 22, click here.