Education bills seek to increase student volunteers

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Editor’s note: We will feature higher education bills already filed for Texas’ 83rd legislative session, which begins Jan. 8, every day until the end of the semester.

Two bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives will encourage more student volunteers if they make it through the upcoming legislative session.

Representative Eddie Lucio III and representative Trey Martinez Fischer each filed bills earlier in November that would encourage Texas high school and college students to put in more volunteer hours. Fischer’s bill would add 20 hours of volunteer work to college graduation requirements and Lucio’s bill would turn high school students’ volunteer hours into tuition credit.

“Serve Your Way to College”

Lucio’s legislative director Houston Tower said Lucio’s bill would create a pilot program called “Serve Your Way to College,” in which students would earn tuition funds in exchange for volunteer hours. Tower said under the program, students would earn at least the equivalent of minimum federal wages in tuition credits.

“We looked at the rates of student debt that students are incurring, and the numbers are skyrocketing,” Tower said. “This is a way to make college more affordable to students while they give back to the community. The way we looked at it, it was a win-win.”

Tower said high school students would have to volunteer at least 50 hours before they could earn tuition funds and they could earn no more than 250 hours per year. According to the bill, the Higher Education Coordinating Board will choose which companies and organizations can participate in the “Serve Your Way to College” pilot program. Political organizations are not allowed to participate, Tower said. He also said Texas would not consider any for-credit volunteer work or volunteer work that replaced paid employees.

While it is early in the legislative process, Tower said Lucio is confident the bill will receive support at the Capitol.

“This is something we feel needs to be addressed, and that is why we filed it as early as we did,” Tower said.

“Volunteer graduation requirement”

Fischer, who also practices law, did not return a request for comment. According to the text of his bill, which would require public university students to serve 20 hours of volunteer work before graduating, every institution would assign an existing office to the duty of assisting students in satisfying this new graduation requirement.

The bill allows individual institutions to select which public service organizations students can volunteer for. It also allows students to propose specific organizations.

If Fischer’s bill passes, it would not affect any college students who enroll in a Texas institution before Sept. 1, 2014.

Holland Finely, coordinator of Student Government’s philanthropic agency Orange Outreach, said the opportunity to expose students to volunteering is valuable, but requiring students to do it gives her some reservation.

“Volunteering gives a dimension to education that can’t be found anywhere else,” Finely said. “But at the same time, there is something about service that is very pure in that you are giving yourself to it rather than being required to do it.”

However, Finley said the bills would be useful in getting students who would normally not volunteer to do so.

Printed on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 as: Legislation to encourage community volunteering