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College students as off-campus doers

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Two events in 2001, the first iPod and 9/11, had a big impact on teens. The iPod had the potential for them to tune out. The other to tune in. Which one won? A survey of college students reveals this pod of iPodians went outward. Volunteering is up 20 percent.

Using census data, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service has found that 3 in 10 college students, or 3.3 million, volunteered last year, mostly as mentors or tutors, and often with religious groups. That's up 600,000 from three years earlier, or just after 9/11.

What's more, the rate of increase in college-age volunteering was more than double that for adults in the US.

Surprising? Not really to faculty who champion the idea of students devoting a larger portion of their salad days to either "civic engagement" or "service learning." Many schools ask (and some require) students to think outside the idea of college as a selfish pursuit of executive suites and stock options, or simply as nose-in-the-books research. They've designed courses to teach the selfless art of engaging with a community in need of assistance, tapping skills learned in higher education to influence real-life situations.

One leader in this public-service movement is the University of Pennsylvania. It has embraced its West Philadelphia neighbors by setting up dozens of courses for students to work in the community, using knowledge from a range of disciplines, such as nutrition. But the most visible evidence of this trend came after hurricane Katrina, when some 200,000 students used their college breaks to help rebuild the Gulf Coast.


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