The federal government keeps coming up with proposals to make “community service” a condition for receiving its benefits. In today’s Washington Examiner, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (www.goacta.org), reminds us of a pending Obama administration proposal to tie a community service mandate to the receipt of higher education tax credits.
Under the American Opportunity Credit, a part of the so-called government stimulus, if you currently pay for college tuition and books, you can reduce the taxes you pay by up to $2500 a year for as long as four years so long as you make less than $80,000 (or $160,000 per couple). This tax break is a dollar-for-dollar credit, not a deduction, and it's refundable, i.e. you still get the money even if it’s more than the taxes you owe.
The Obama administration wants to increase the amount to $4000 but would require recipients to engage in community service. Notwithstanding that some students might actually prefer to read and learn, that others are focusing all their energies on preparing for a career, while still others need to work, the Administration proposes that they drop what they’re doing and volunteer—or lose their (or their parents') tax credit.
As a reader and non-joiner and taxpayer frustrated by the increasing number of carrots and sticks the government uses to nudge me into socially-approved behavior, I find this objectionable. So does the American Council on Education, which wrote Congress wondering how many college administrators will it take to decide what counts as community service and which of their students have fulfilled its requirements. Ms. Neal takes note of what, in another time, might have appeared obvious: “By definition, volunteerism is just that: voluntary. You volunteer—no one makes you do it.”