Community Service Requirements Can Discourage Those

Students who are not willing or not ready to volunteer-but who are required to by their school-may be less likely to volunteer again in the future, according to a recent research article published in the January 1999 issue of Psychological Science, ajournal of the American Psychological Society.

Arthur A. Stukas, of the University of Northern Colorado, along with Mark Snyder (University of Minnesota) and E. Gil Clary (College of St. Catherine), investigated the consequences of such "mandatory volunteerism" programs and found that students who initially felt it would be unlikely they would freely volunteer had significantly lower intentions to do so in the future after being required to serve than after being given a choice.

"As state and local governments reduce or eliminate public programs and services, the need for volunteers in the United States to make up for those losses has become a growing concern. In response, a number of colleges and secondary schools have initiated conununity service requirements as necessary for graduation. Most of these 'mandatory volunteerism' programs have dual goals: to directly assist the community that supports them and to promote the personal, social, and civic development of students," said Stukas, who, along with his colleagues, conducted a field study and a laboratory experiment to see how these programs affected students' prosocial tendencies.

The two studies suggest that community service requirements can have negative effects on students' intentions to volunteer freely in the future but only when students feel they aren't ready to volunteer or that the requirement is too controlling. Students who are ready to volunteer should be less negatively influenced by requirements to serve.

"The good news is that students who were not 'ready' to volunteer were less affected by our free choice condition--that is, we were able to persuade them to volunteer while making sum that they still felt that it was their free choice and they were more likely to want to volunteer in the future than 'not ready' students who had been required," said Stukas. "And, once again, students who were 'ready' to volunteer, who would do so freely anyway, were unaffected by our requirement condition. They were just as likely to want to continue volunteering after being required as after having a free choice to volunteer."

Stukas said that to avoid the negative effects of mandatory volunteer programs on students' motivation, institutions could design these programs to contain an element of free choice for students, "that is, programs that allow students to choose the type of volunteer activity in which they will engage or that allow students to combine longstanding personal interests and personal skills with their service requirements should result in the least harm to students' prosocial tendencies," he said. "In fact, students who initially wouldn't have thought so may come to find that they actually like helping others-when requirements are applied gently and with students' input and involvement."

For a copy of the research article, contact the American Psychological Society at 202-783-2077 x.3032.

For more information on the research, contact Srukas at Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society, explores research, theory, and application in psychology and related sciences. The American Psychological Society is a non-profit mrnbership organization of more than 15,000 applied, academic, and research psychologists dedicated to encouraging, facilitating, and preserving scientific and behavioral research in the public interest.