Application of Planned Behavior Theory to Predicting Volunteer Enrollment by College Students in a Campus-Based Program

Article excerpt

The present study tested two hypotheses derived from the theory of planned behavior regarding volunteer enrollment by college students in a campus-based program. Undergraduates (N = 647) enrolled in eight sections of Introduction to Psychology received a recruitment message for volunteering through a campus-based program. Following exposure to the recruitment message, students completed a questionnaire and two months later the enrollment records of the campus-based program were checked. Consistent with the theory of planned behavior, attitude, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control predicted intent - and intent, in turn, predicted volunteer enrollment in the campus-based program. However, less than 33% of the students with the maximum possible intention score of six subsequently enrolled to volunteer in the campus-based program.

There has been growing interest in volunteering in our society (Independent Sector, 1999). Policy makers have taken the position that volunteer programs can enhance the well-being of individuals and afford society an opportunity to address social problems (Freedman, 1993). In public schools and in colleges and universities, there has been a trend toward increasing the provision of service learning experiences (Scales, Blyth, Berkas, & Kielsmeier, 2000). Astin and his colleagues found that volunteer service participation enhanced college students' academic development, life skill development, and sense of civic responsibility both during and after their undergraduate years (Astin & Sax, 1998; Astin, Sax, & Avalos, 1999).

Despite the belief that volunteerism is beneficial for both individuals and society, researchers have demonstrated that only a select group of individuals are attracted to volunteering (Allen & Rushton, 1983). One social psychological theory that has been employed to study volunteering is the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1985). The purpose of the present study was to test hypotheses derived from the theory of planned behavior regarding the dynamics of college student volunteer enrollment in a campus-based program.

THE THEORY OF PLANNED BEHAVIOR

The theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1985) was developed to account for the process by which individuals decide on, and engage in, a particular course of action. This theory posits that a person's intention to perform a behavior is the most proximal determinant of behavioral choice (Ajzen, 1991). Intent to perform a behavior, in turn, is a function of three determinants - attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control. Thus, intent is hypothesized to mediate the effects of attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control on behavioral performance. Depending on the difficulty of engaging in the behavior, perceived behavioral control may also exert a direct effect on behavioral performance.

Harrison (1995) examined the relations between measures of attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control, and intent and attendance behavior in three samples of men who had started volunteering at a shelter for the homeless. The mean age of the samples ranged from 35.2 years to 39.5 years. Several findings from Harrison's study are relevant to the present study. First, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control predicted intent to attend volunteer work at the shelter across all three samples, and attitude predicted intent to attend volunteer work at the shelter in two of the three samples. Second, intent to attend volunteer work at the shelter was a significant predictor of volunteer attendance at the shelter across all three samples. Third, with intent to attend volunteer work at the shelter in the equation, attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control did not predict volunteer attendance at the shelter in any of the samples. This set of findings suggests that the theory of planned behavior can help us understand the dynamics of intent to volunteer and enrolling to volunteer in a campus-based program. …

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