Achieve Universal National Service

To rebuild our national community, indeed our democracy, we will propose universal national service for all 17- or 18-year-olds.

This proposal is based on the simple belief that we are so easily divided because Americans don’t know each other. Working alongside another American from another part of the country in service of the country’s military or civilian needs gives us the chance to understand each other more deeply, and ultimately to reject the superficial assumptions we make about other Americans whose backgrounds and experiences are different — while also helping the Nation address a host of unmet needs. From AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps to teaching opportunities at home and aboard to service with the military, we will advance ways to give Americans, young and old, the paid opportunity to serve their country and their community. And in return for their national service, service members will earn free tuition at public universities.

We have the opportunity to strengthen and revitalize a new national service for our country, in which all Americans who wish to serve their country are able to do so. Not only would we enlist help in tackling the greatest challenges we face — climate change and disaster response, homelessness and poverty, inequality in education and opportunity, national security and our moral standing abroad — but we would do so in a way that brings Americans together. Our society has become so polarized and stratified that we forget our shared love of and commitment to our American values of equality, opportunity and fair play.

Project 351

  • Project 351 is a Massachusetts nonprofit launched in 2011, when Governor Patrick sought to celebrate his second inaugural with a focus on young people and community.
  • Working with local leaders, the project was conceived of as a one-day celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., statewide unity, and youth leadership. Project 351 unites eighth graders from each of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns to develop leadership skills and confidence.  

  • Project 351 is now in its tenth year, with 3,381 alumni and more than 730,000 lives positively impacted through service.

  • The nonprofit, funded entirely through private donations, is a 12-month leadership development program that builds a youth-led movement for change. Through enrichment, mentorship, and statewide service, Project 351 develops a pipeline of community-first leaders. 


Universal National Service

We will set the United States on a path to achieving universal voluntary national service by 2030.  Every adult in America should have the opportunity to serve our country beginning when they are 17 or 18 years old and the programs should be compelling enough that service will become an expectation of most young Americans.  These programs would bring Americans from across the country together in new places and new ways to take on our most pressing challenges.  Opportunities to serve would initially focus on:

  • Climate change and climate resilience;
  • Addressing the root causes of poverty and homelessness;
  • National security and emergency response;
  • Promoting American values and moral standing in the world;
  • Inequality in education and opportunity; and
  • Public health and access to health care.

In exchange for national service, whether civilian or military, we would create new incentives all those who serve would earn.

Reward Service

Alumni of service programs will receive free tuition at public colleges and universities or equivalent programs. For every year of service, students would receive two years of tuition, up to the full cost of a four-year degree.

  • Those who serve would earn a fair living allowance, including health care, and new immigrants who participate in either military or civilian service would have their naturalization timeline accelerated.

To achieve this ambitious reimagining of national service, we will begin by building on existing programs, incentivizing local communities to innovate, and expanding programs that work nationally.

Integrate National Service Efforts

Within the first hundred days of a Patrick Administration, I will make national service a key priority by starting the process of combining and aligning all existing service programs under the direction of one cabinet official, and appointing a White House official to oversee existing programs and the expansion of all new programs.

Service for Older Americans

We will also lead an effort to expand and promote opportunities for older Americans to serve their communities, such as in skills training and development programs or as mentors. We have far too much talent and wisdom among the senior population to leave unutilized.

Build on Existing Programs

The United States already has a number of successful programs to build on, most notably the armed services. For civilian service, programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps provide decades of experience and hundreds-of-thousands of alumni.  In furtherance of this service initiative, the Patrick Administration will dramatically expand funding for these and related programs.

Fund Innovation in Local Service Programs

The Patrick administration will make grants to  state and local programs, as well as non-profits or public-private partnerships, that create the best models of community service.  We will assess all programs by a clear framework of success so that funding flows to those that both make meaningful progress in attacking a critical problem facing our country while also giving young people valuable skills and experiences, all in a way that is cost-effective and achieves the goal of bringing Americans from all walks-of-life together in common cause.

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