Understanding Patterns of Commitment; Student Motivation for Community Service Involvement

By Jones, Susan R.; Hill, Kathleen E. | Journal of Higher Education, September-October 2003 | Go to article overview

Understanding Patterns of Commitment; Student Motivation for Community Service Involvement


Jones, Susan R., Hill, Kathleen E., Journal of Higher Education


Increased interest in and attention to community service in both high schools and colleges suggests the importance of understanding why students participate in community service activities. The literature clearly supplies evidence for high-school students' interest and participation in community service. Data on high-school seniors from the 1970s through the 1990s suggest that 22-24% of seniors report consistent service involvement (Youniss, McLellan, & Yates, 1999). Results from a recent survey conducted by The National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education report that 83% of all public high schools had students involved in school sponsored community service activities and 46% offered service-learning opportunities in the classroom (Westat & Chapman, 1999). Findings from the 2000 survey of first-year college students report that just over 81% of students had performed volunteer work in the past year. However, only 22.7% of students indicated that it was important to participate in a community action program, and 30.9% indicated they valued becoming a community leader (Higher Education Research Institute, 2001).

While research suggests that participation in community service in high school predisposes students to continue their involvement in college (Astin & Sax, 1998; Astin, Sax, & Avalos, 1999; Berger & Milem, 2002; Vogelgesang & Astin, 2000), only 23.8% of first-year students in the 2000 survey sample indicated that the chances were very good that they would participate in volunteer or community service work (Higher Education Research Institute, 2001). These data raise questions about why high-school students are volunteering, the motives high-school and college students provide for involvement, and the relationship between high-school community service and college participation.

Using Selznick's (1992) theory of social participation, which distinguishes between core (connected to identity, motivated by values, and more consistent in nature) and segmental (connected to extrinsic factors, motivated by personal interests, and sporadic) participation, findings from a study on a national sample of high-school students suggested that student interests and personal goals, values, and normative environments influence high school-seniors' participation in community service (Marks & Kuss, 2001). Further, in a study that followed these same students into their college years, the extent to which these students persevered as participants in community service after high school appears to be related to patterns established in high school as well as whether or not students have internalized their reasons for participation (Marks & Jones, in press). This investigation builds upon the work of Marks & Kuss, and Marks and Jones by using a constructivist approach to understand student perceptions of their patterns of participation from high school to college. An earlier study conducted by Serow (1991) demonstrated that qualitative methodologies resulted in far greater depth of understanding of the phenomenon of motivations for community service than "requiring them [students] to choose among prepackaged responses" (p. 552).

Although some research suggests that patterns identified in high school are typically carried over into college (Astin, Sax, & Avalos, 1999; Berger & Milem, 2002; Marks & Jones, in press), little is known about changes in motivations from high school to college or the meaning students attribute to their motivations. Several studies have focused on college student motivation for involvement in community service activities. Typically, reasons have been organized into the categories of altruistic, egoistic, and obligatory (Berger & Milem, 2002; Fitch, 1987; Marotta & Nashman, 1998; Serow, 1991; Winniford, Carpenter, & Grider, 1997). In one study when asked why they were involved, 80% of student respondents cited personal satisfaction from helping others, 56% gave as a reason a perceived requirement through a course or organization, and 54% indicated a sense of responsibility to correct social and community problems (Serow, 1991). …

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