16 October 2006
by Justin Pope
Some call them lazy, more interested in partying hard than helping out. But a new study shows college students volunteer at a rate that's grown sharply over the last few years.
The number of college students volunteering grew more than 20 percent, from 2.7 million to 3.3 million, between 2002 and 2005, according to a study being released Monday by the Corporation for National & Community Service, a federal agency. The growth rate for college students is more than double that for all volunteers.
Among the report's other findings:
- Thirty-three percent of female college students volunteer, compared to 26.8 percent of males;
- Among volunteers, tutoring (26.6 percent) and mentoring (23.8 percent) are the most common activities. White students are more likely to volunteer than blacks (32 percent to 24.1 percent), but black students who volunteer are more likely to be tutors or mentors;
- Students who work part-time (1-15 hours per week) volunteer at higher rates than students who don't have jobs;
- About 23 percent of college student volunteers serve with religious organizations, compared to about 35 percent of volunteers overall.
"We have observed a historically significant surge in service interest by college students, probably the most remarkable increase since the 'Greatest Generation' of World War II," said Steve Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis and chairman of the corporation.
Altogether, about 30 percent of college students are volunteering, with tutoring and mentoring the most common activities.
Utah, Idaho and Oklahoma had the highest percentage of college students volunteering, while Georgia, New York and Nevada had the lowest.
The study uses data from the Current Population Survey, a regular household survey conducted by the government that in 2002 began asking questions about volunteerism.
That means the study doesn't show the trend before 2002, but much of the spike in volunteerism seems to date to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"What's remarkable is students who were in high school at the time of 9/11, and are now in college, have kept their interest in service at exceptionally high levels," Goldsmith said.
About one-third of K-12 schools now have service learning in the curriculum. A few colleges, and many individual college courses, have made service work mandatory.
But Goldsmith said he does not believe such mandatory service explains the increase, noting other indicators such as strong demand for slots in the corporation's AmeriCorps program. A recent national survey of college freshmen found the highest level of interest in helping others in 25 years.
Still, the report finds a growing trend of "episodic" volunteering, in which students participate in different projects but devote less than two weeks at a time to each, rather than regularly contributing to one project or organization.
Episodic volunteering may also have been boosted by the more-than 200,000 college students, many of them giving up fall and spring breaks, who volunteered to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
"I do think college kids are given a bad rap," said Katie Franck, a senior at Elon University in North Carolina who traveled to the Gulf Coast on her fall break, and coordinates an after-school mentoring program at Elon that is rapidly expanding. "When they're given the opportunities and it's facilitated the right way, they're willing to donate a lot of time and energy to others."