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January 22, 2002

Emory places high in 'serve-study' rankings

By Michael Terrazas


According to a recent study, Emory ranks second among the nation’s top universities in its percentage of federal work-study funding that goes toward community service projects.

The University directs 13.8 percent of work-study funds to service, according to the Office of Financial Aid’s student employment office. This ranks behind only Stanford (22.3 percent) among top American universities. Trailing Emory are the University of Pennsylvania (12.6 percent), Columbia (12.5), Harvard (12.3) and Yale (11.2). No other top school is above 10 percent.

These figures are a result of an exhaustive project undertaken by The Washington Monthly and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and are published in WM’s January/ February 2002 issue. The article has caused somewhat of a furor in the higher education community, as dozens of American colleges and universities fall below the federal mandate of directing at least 7 percent of work-study funds toward service (Northwestern, incidentally, weighs in at 8.8 percent). A full text of the article can be found at

“I am very glad that we have been able to deploy these funds in this manner; I cannot imagine a better use for them,” said President Bill Chace. “It is good to be in Stanford’s company, for that sister institution seems also to be doing what makes sense, what does good for the community, and is in accord with the principles of work-study.”

The top schools overall in “serve-study” are all public institutions; the University of California-Riverside, for example, leads the list at 51 percent. Among the top academic schools, however, Rice, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Notre Dame and MIT all are below the 7 percent federal bar; MIT directs just 1.9 percent of funding to serve-study. The national average for all colleges and universities is just under 12 percent.

According to Christine Workman, Emory’s assistant director for student employment, “community service” jobs are defined as those for nonprofit or governmental organizations. Surprisingly, Emory exerts no controls whatsoever on how many work-study students take jobs in serve-study; the University simply benefits from having an extremely strong volunteer organization (Emory READ) that qualifies as serve-study, as well as a proximity to a government entity (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that employs a large number of students.

“It’s not like we have a quota or anything [on serve-study jobs],” Workman said. “There’s no method. We just let the students apply to the agencies, and then it sells itself.”

Workman said approximately 1,600 Emory students are on work-study, which brings in about $1.5 million each year from Washington. Federal funds make up 75 percent of a work-study student’s paycheck, and the University picks up the rest. The program was created by Congress in 1965 with the intent of allowing students to work off student loans by performing community service.

Indeed, according to the WM article, the current law states explicitly that the purpose of work-study is “to encourage students receiving federal student financial aid to participate in community service activities that will benefit the nation and engender in the students a sense of social responsibility and commitment to the community.”

But over the years, fewer and fewer work-study jobs were related to service, and the federal mandate for serve-study dropped lower and lower until it bottomed out at 5 percent. It was raised again to 7 percent in 2001. Now, senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have introduced legislation that would raise the federal requirement to 25 percent.

Chace said, if he were in Congress, he would vote for the new bill. “Community service is good for the people it reaches, and it is good for the students to be directly involved in the lives of people in need,” he said.

Even though Emory is doing well in serve-study by most any measure, if Congress suddenly raised the bar to 25 percent, the University would have to almost double its current serve-study figure to be in compliance.

However, Michael Rich, director of the the Office of University-Community Partnerships, said it would not be difficult to come up with more service opportunities for work-study students by working with Financial Aid and Volunteer Emory. “It would be relatively easy to craft some steps to raise those numbers,” he said.

Still, even though many top universities are taking a beating in the popular press over this issue for a supposed lack of commitment to community service, Rich said the serve-study number may not be a valid measure of this commitment and certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.

“That’s only one type of service a university might provide: The so-called ‘warm body’ approach, where you have this tremendous labor force at your command, and you encourage students to go out and give somebody volunteer service hours,” Rich said.

“There’s a whole other level of service some universities are beginning to aspire to,” he said. “We’re moving beyond the warm-body approach to using the kind of intellectual resources and capacity of a university to work with community and government agencies to engage in collaborative problem-solving, needs assessment, program evaluations, things of that nature.”




Back to Emory Report January 22, 2002

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