Rob Lattin is Jspace News' Foreign Affairs Correspondent. In addition to covering foreign affairs for Jspace, Rob is a blogger on Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for the Foreign Policy Association, as well as a freelance writer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone in the United States knows there is something inherently wrong with the college system in regards to the maturity level of our undergraduate college students. Yes, college is a great time, but these days unless you are in the sciences or engineering, the four-year education does not provide students will many transferrable work skills.
Over the past 25 years, college has become a space to let loose and rebel against parents—which, at its roots, is a great impulse—but as of late has manifested itself in raging parties and binge drinking. This is a particularly concerning trend given the rising costs of tuition. Simply put, kids entering college right out of high school are too young and have too little life experience to properly take advantage of the experience, and American society pays the price.
Comparatively, Israelis take college seriously, recognizing that it is the time to learn and prepare for the working world. There is of course an element of fun involved, but it does not begin to approach the US and its infamous kegger parties. This is likely correlated with the fact that Israel’s 18 year-olds are drafted into the military, or participate in national service if they are unfit for duty. Girls are required to give a year and half of service, while men give two and half years.
Following the military most Israelis take a year off to travel the world, where they get their fill of fun, along with cultural and world experience, which can only help their maturation process. By the time they reach their university-level studies Israeli students are usually 22-23 years old and more prepared and focused. In November 2011, CNN reported that Israel was one of several countries, including Japan, Ireland, France and Denmark, among others, which boasted higher college graduate percentages than the United States.
So what can the US do to restore its college reputation, and by extension its society’s? Follow Israel’s lead and implement a mandatory national service following high school graduation. On his 2008 transitional website, President Barack Obama openly stated his desire to implement such a system, though on a lesser scale:
“The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps.”
“Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.”
While taking a full year off to do service would be ideal, Obama’s above proposal would have been a solid start. But, for whatever reason, he has not made this a priority and mandatory national service has been put on the backburner.
The United States government should take a hard look at the values on display in its universities, which in turn trickle into society, as well as the maturity level of its students and the future of its education system. Israel has found a way to flourish in these tough economic times in large part because of the maturity of its younger generations, which begins when they give back to the state. America would do well to take note.