Thursday, Sep. 11, 2008

Get Your College Involved

Colleges and universities have a special responsibility to educate the next generation of active, engaged citizens. When I recently welcomed our entering students at Tufts, I gave them their first homework assignment — to vote. But voting alone is not enough. If we are to address this nation's major challenges, we need people across the political spectrum to serve in government, to run for office and to work to build stronger, more vibrant communities. What we don't need is people sitting on the sidelines complaining.

Many colleges have set up programs to facilitate community service. Some encourage incoming students to consider a "gap year" for service before enrolling. We're trying something more ambitious: because alumni who are burdened by debt can't afford to take jobs in public service, we've started a loan-repayment-assistance program to help degree holders from all our schools — undergraduate, graduate and professional — pursue careers in the nonprofit or public sectors.

It's the first university-wide program of its kind in the country. An inspiring group of more than 400 alumni applied for assistance this year. Ranging in age from 22 to 37, they live all over the U.S. and abroad. Many work in education or health and human services, while others are aspiring diplomats and advocates for human rights and the environment. What unites them is a passionate commitment to make the world a better place. Every student who graduates with a loan worries about how to pay it off. We hope Tufts' loan-repayment-assistance program will remove some of that worry. Helping young people pursue their passion for service is one of the best investments our society can make.

Bacow is the president of Tufts University