[CUA Office of Public Affairs]   

 

                                                                                                Aug. 1, 2005

Contact: Katie Lee

  202-319-5600

 

CUA Study: Engaging in Community Service Increases Motivation to Vote

 

High school students required to take part in community service prior to graduation show increased interest in politics and are more motivated to vote later in life, according to a study conducted by CUA psychology Professor James Youniss and recent Ph.D. graduate Edward Metz.

 

The study, published in the May issue of Political Psychology, also shows that high school students who participate in community service sustain a long-term feeling of civic responsibility.

 

Based on these findings, Youniss and Metz recommend that high schools include mandatory community service requirements in their curricula. According to the researchers, 24% of American high schools currently invoke such a requirement.

 

“It’s really a crucial time for youth,” says Youniss. “There is good evidence that if you get politically engaged when you’re young — somewhere between the ages of 16 and 23 — you stay engaged for life.”

 

Youniss explains that today’s youth aren’t motivated to vote by events such as World War II and the Civil Rights movement as previous generations were. “The data are clear that the percentage of youth who vote has been in decline since 1972, up until the last election,” he says. “Young people are caught in a culture that promotes self-gain. Good service programs in high schools can help them get back to the basic value of social responsibility.”

 

The study followed participants enrolled in a New England public high school that, in the fall of 1997, introduced a 40-hour community service prerequisite for graduation. The researchers tracked students from the graduating class of 2000 (who, having entered the school in 1996, had no community service requirement) and students from the classes of 2001 and 2002 (the first two groups of students with the service requirement) during their junior and senior years.

 

Prior to the study, the researchers measured the students’ existing community service involvement. Students from all three classes were then separated into two additional groups: more-inclined-to-serve and less-inclined-to-serve.

 

At the beginning of 11th and 12th grade and at the end of 12th grade, all students were asked about the likelihood of their voting in a U.S. presidential election upon graduation. The researchers also asked students how often they discussed politics and whether they believed politics to be too confusing for teens. Finally, students were asked about the likelihood of their volunteering or joining a civic organization after graduating.

 

The researchers observed that less-inclined students waited until senior year to engage in the school’s community service requirement.

 

Results showed that less-inclined students from the class of 2000 (no service requirement) and the classes of 2001 and 2002 (service requirement) were similar in voting attitude during junior year, but by the end of senior year, motivation to vote increased sharply in the latter group while remaining low in the former group.

 

Similarly, the two groups remained equal in their measurements of political interest and motivation to volunteer throughout junior year, but by the end of senior year the group that had taken part in community service scored much higher in both categories.

 

Work by other researchers has shown that intention to engage in a future behavior, e.g. voting, is predictive of subsequent behavior, and Youniss and Metz currently are writing an article attempting to show that community service involvement corresponds directly to an increase in voting rate eight years later. The study is based on data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education following the 2004 presidential election.

 

In the coming academic year the researchers plan to publish a follow-up article to the present study outlining the specific reasons why community service participation influences political interest and voting rate.

 

James Youniss is the Wylma R. and James R. Curtin Professor of Psychology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. To request an interview, a copy of the research paper or additional information, contact Katie Lee in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.

 

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Revised: 8/9/2005

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