"A Double-Edged Sword": College Student Perceptions of Required High School Service-Learning

By Jones, Susan R.; Segar, Thomas C. et al. | Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

"A Double-Edged Sword": College Student Perceptions of Required High School Service-Learning


Jones, Susan R., Segar, Thomas C., Gasiorski, Anna L., Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning


With increased national, university, and community attention focused on civic engagement and participation, service-learning is increasingly touted as an efficacious strategy to promote such goals (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Hart, Donnelly, Youniss, & Atkins, 2007; Metz & Youniss, 2003; Raskoff & Sundeen, 1999). Growing numbers of high school and college students are involved in community service and volunteering (Higher Education Research Institute, 2006; Spring, Dietz, & Grimm, 2006). Drawing upon data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNS) reports a 20% increase in the number of college students who volunteered from 2002 to 2005, attributing this in part to what they referred to as the "9/11 Generation." However, evidence exists to suggest that college students are involved in more "episodic," short-term volunteer activities which may not be directly related to the cultivation of patterns of participation needed for civic engagement (Dote, Cramer, Dietz, & Grimm, 2006; Marks & Jones, 2004) and that college student volunteer activity is on the decline (HERI, 2006). To promote a "culture of college service," the service-learning "pipeline" (Dote et al., p. 3) from high schools to college must be examined.

Community service and service-learning requirements are increasingly common among high schools and colleges, presumably as one strategy to promote continued community participation. Indeed, many school districts throughout the United States have established community service graduation requirements (Education Commission of the States, 2001). However, only Maryland has a statewide mandatory service-learning high school graduation requirement. Implemented in 1997, this mandate stipulates that all students who attend public high schools complete a minimum of 75 service-learning hours. Existing research on the link between required service and continued participation is mixed at best and does not match the certainty with which requirements are increasingly pursued in an effort to develop patterns of civic engagement and continued service (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1987; Jennings & Stoker, 2004; Jones & Hill, 2003; Marks & Jones, 2004; McLellan & Youniss, 2003; Metz & Youniss, 2003; Stukas, Clary, & Snyder, 1999). For example, CNS research reports that the state of Maryland is ranked 34th among all states in college student volunteering, with a 30.2% volunteering rate (Dote et al., 2006). This is surprising given that 46.2% of all Maryland public high school graduates become college students in the state's public and private colleges and universities (Maryland State Department of Education, 2006).

What is clear is that despite growing interest in service-learning in high schools and colleges, and investment of resources in promoting such activities, very little is known about the effectiveness of service-learning requirements in promoting civic engagement and continued community involvement (Niemi, Hepburn, & Chapman, 2000). No studies investigate how a statewide service-learning requirement influences students' future intentions to serve in college or beyond, or other outcomes associated with a requirement.

Competing Rationales for Required Service Early conceptual arguments associating education and service as a means of encouraging post secondary community involvement can be traced back over 100 years to educational pioneer John Dewey (Harkavy, 2004). More recent advocates such as Ernest Boyer (1983), former Federal Commissioner of Education, recommended mandatory high school service as a means of preparing students to assume responsibility for living as contributing members of their community and society during and after high school. Barber (1994) documented the historical trend of teaching citizenship through service noting that only in recent history has service been separated from education. …

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