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Volunteer Service

Many schools and postsecondary institutions have established programs that promote, and in some cases require, student community service (Frase 1995; Nolin et al. 1997). Past research has found that students who participate in these programs tend to have stronger ties to school, peers, and the community, as well as a higher exhibition of other positive social behaviors (Nolin et al. 1997; Youniss, McLellan, and Yates 1997; Smith 1999; Metz and Youniss 2003). Given these potential benefits, it is important to understand the characteristics and patterns of volunteering among young adults.

Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), this indicator describes the characteristics of young adults who volunteered. Based on data from the NELS:88 1992 sample of 12th-grade students who were asked about their high school volunteer service for the period 1990-92 and then re-interviewed in 1994 and again in 2000, this indicator also examines whether high school volunteer service was related to volunteering 2 years and 8 years after their scheduled high school graduation.

Young adults as a group were less active as community service volunteers after high school. Volunteering among this 12th-grade cohort declined 25 percent 8 years after high school, in 2000. Forty-four percent of young adults volunteered in high school compared to 33 percent 8 years later (table 1).

Table 1. Percentages of students who reported participating in an unpaid volunteer or community service activity in high school and in subsequent follow-up periods, by select student characteristics: 1990–92, 1994, and 2000


Student Characteristic Vol. 1990-92 Vol. 1994 Vol. 2000 Vol. 1990-92 and 1994 Vol. 1990-92 and 2000 Vol. 1990-92 only Vol. 1994 only Vol. 2000 only Vol. 1990-92 and 1994 only Vol. 1990-92 and 2000 only Consistent Vol. 1990-92, 1994, and 2000 Any Vol. 1990-92, 1994, or 2000 Percent change 1990-92 to 20001
  All Students 44.0 38.7 32.8 23.7 18.3 14.1 9.3 8.9 11.6 6.1 12.2 67.8 -25.4
Sex                          
  Male 38.2 38.0 29.0 21.0 15.6 12.2 11.3 7.6 10.5 5.1 10.5 62.9 -24.2
  Female 49.8 39.4 36.6 26.5 21.0 16.1 7.4 10.2 12.7 7.2 13.8 72.8 -26.4
Race/ ethnicity                          
  White, non-Hispanic 46.6 40.3 32.2 25.9 18.9 14.5 7.6 8.7 13.1 6.1 12.8 68.6 -30.8
  Black, non-Hispanic 35.9 35.5 40.9 17.4 17.7 11.7 16.0 10.9 6.5 6.8 10.9 70.0 13.8
  Hispanic 37.5 33.3 30.7 18.8 16.7 12.9 9.4 10.0 7.9 5.8 10.8 61.5 -18.3
  Asian/ Pacific Islander 45.7 34.9 26.7 20.4 16.7 18.8 6.3 10.8 10.1 6.4 10.3 66.5 -41.5
  Native American/ Alaska Native 19.1 39.4 26.6 10.4 4.8 7.4 15.7 22.9 6.9 1.3 3.5 63.8 39.3
SES                          
  Low quartile 27.8 26.1 25.0 12.1 10.7 11.2 10.9 10.6 5.9 4.5 6.2 52.7 -10.1
  Middle two quartiles 41.2 35.4 32.9 19.8 16.3 15.1 10.7 9.6 9.8 6.2 10.1 67.4 -20.1
  High quartile 59.8 53.0 38.7 38.5 27.4 14.1 4.8 8.0 18.3 7.2 20.2 79.1 -35.4

1 Percent change, 1990-92 to 2000, is derived by dividing the difference between the percentages of volunteers in 2000 and 1990-92 by the 1990-92 percentage.
NOTE: SES = socioeconomic status of household in 1988.
SOURCE: Table 2 in U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Statistics in Brief: Volunteer Service by Young People From High School Through Early Adulthood, NCES 2004365, by Michael Planty, Michael Regnier and Jeffrey Owings. Washington, DC: 2004.

Individual volunteering patterns showed large variation. While about 68 percent of young adults volunteered at least once in the three survey periods, 12 percent volunteered consistently across all survey periods (figure 1 and table 1).

Figure 1. Percentage of young adults participating in an unpaid volunteer or community service activity in high school and in subsequent follow-up periods: 1990-92, 1994, and 2000


Community service involvement by young people from high school through early adulthood

NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Nonvolunteers included those who did not participate in volunteer activities and a small percentage of nonrespondents.
SOURCE: Figure 1 in U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Statistics in Brief: Volunteer Service by Young People From High School Through Early Adulthood, NCES 2004365, by Michael Planty, Michael Regnier and Jeffrey Owings. Washington, DC: 2004.

No difference in the likelihood of volunteering 8 years after graduation was detected between young adults who performed only mandatory volunteer service in high school and students who performed no high school volunteering (28 vs. 26 percent, respectively) (table 2). Both of these groups - mandatory and nonvolunteers - were less likely to volunteer 8 years after high school than persons who were strongly encouraged to volunteer or did it for strictly voluntary reasons (43 percent).

Table 2. Percentage of young adults participating in unpaid volunteer or community service activities, by service type and select student characteristics: 2000


Student Characteristic Youth Organizations Civic/community volunteer Any volunteering1
  All Students 20.6 22.0 32.8
Sex      
  Male 18.9 19.7 29.0
  Female 22.3 24.3 36.6
Race/ethnicity      
  White, non-Hispanic 19.7 21.9 32.2
  Black, non-Hispanic 29.2 26.9 40.9
  Hispanic 19.5 19.1 30.7
  Asian/Pacific Islander 14.8 19.2 26.7
  Native American/Alaska Native 18.5 13.4 26.6
SES      
  Low quartile 16.0 15.5 25.0
  Middle two quartiles 20.8 22.5 32.9
  High quartile 23.4 26.4 38.7
High school volunteering      
Any1   26.0 28.2 41.5
  Mandatory only2 15.4 19.5 28.2
  Strictly voluntary or encouraged3 27.2 29.2 43.0
None   16.5 17.0 25.9

1 "Any volunteering" indicates participation with at least one type of organization.
2 This group reported performing volunteer work that was court-ordered, required for class, and/or required for another reason, and also did not indicate any other motivation.
3 A percentage of this group reported volunteering that was court-ordered, or required for a class or other reason, in addition to strictly voluntary service.
NOTE: SES = socioeconomic status of household in 1988.
SOURCE: Table 4 in U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Statistics in Brief: Volunteer Service by Young People From High School Through Early Adulthood, NCES 2004365, by Michael Planty, Michael Regnier and Jeffrey Owings. Washington, DC: 2004.

References

Frase, M. (1995). Community Service Performed by High School Seniors (Education Policy Issues: Statistical Perspectives) (NCES 95-743). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Metz, E., and Youniss, J. (2003). A Demonstration That School-Based Required Service Does Not Deter - but Heightens - Volunteerism. Political Science & Politics, April: 281-286.

Nolin, M.J., Chaney, B., Chapman, C., and Chandler, K. (1997). Student Participation in Community Service Activity (NCES 97-331). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Smith, E. (1999). The Effects of Investments in the Social Capital of Youth on Political and Civic Behavior in Young Adulthood: A Longitudinal Analysis. Political Psychology, 20: 553-580.

Youniss, J., McLellan, J., and Yates, M. (1997). What We Know About Engendering Civic Identity. American Behavioral Scientist, 40: 620-631.

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