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Published:November 14th, 2006 11:47 EST
Sharp Hike Reported in Volunteering by U.S. University Students

Sharp Hike Reported in Volunteering by U.S. University Students

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The number of American university students who volunteer for community service projects in the United States has risen nearly 20 percent since 2002, according to a new study.

University students “represent a large and growing source of the nation’s volunteers,” according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency that provides grants and other support to volunteer organizations throughout the country. The agency’s latest study found that three in 10 university students, or 3.3 million people, volunteered in 2005 – a gain of 600,000 students above the 2.7 million reported in 2002.

On campuses and in the community, university students are participating in a range of volunteer service activities such as tutoring and mentoring children, raising funds for worthy causes and helping their fellow citizens recover from hurricanes and other natural disasters, including deadly hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.


Each year, the Corporation for National and Community Service provides opportunities for more than 2 million Americans of all ages to serve their communities through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America. (See related article.)

Universities in the United States were founded with the principle of civic engagement in mind in addition to their academic missions, according to the agency report, titled College Students Helping America.  To continue the civic service tradition, universities have embraced new ways of engaging students, such as through community-based research and service learning.

Community-based research involves students in research projects that address social issues. Service learning integrates community service projects with classroom learning, and students often receive academic credit for their projects.

In October, for the first time, six colleges and universities received the President’s Higher Education Community Service Award for encouraging and supporting noteworthy student community service projects. Three awards were for excellence in general community service and three were for Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts.



One honoree was California State University, Monterey Bay, which has a service- learning requirement for all undergraduates. Some students serve as tutors and mentors in underperforming local schools, while others assist homeless and other marginalized people by preparing meals at the local soup kitchen, teaching at a computer lab in the neighborhood, working on neighborhood beautification and other projects.

One of the hurricane service honorees was Tulane University in New Orleans. Although the university itself suffered extensive physical losses from Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 4,290 Tulane students contributed 68,880 hours toward relief activities. Tulane has a new public service graduation requirement for all undergraduates, beginning with the class of 2010.

Stanford University medical student volunteer
Stanford University medical student Dora Castaneda volunteered to work with autistic children. (© AP Images)

 “I enjoy mentoring because it makes me feel like I’m part of the community,” Johns Hopkins University undergraduate Allison Stoddart, 19, in Baltimore told the Washington File. “The kids are all really eager to participate.”

 “I enjoy this opportunity to be a role model for these girls during a tumultuous period in their lives,” said Kristen Ward, 20, a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, in a Washington File interview about her experience mentoring middle school girls through a program called Sister-to-Sister. Sponsored by the American Association of University Women, Sister-to-Sister hosts a daylong summit for the middle-school girls emphasizing female empowerment.

Tutoring and mentoring are the most popular volunteer activities on university campuses, followed by fundraising and preparing, distributing and serving food. In 2005, nearly 32 percent of university student volunteers worked at educational or youth services organizations, and 24 percent worked at religious organizations. Other students volunteered at organizations ranging from sports and cultural groups to those specializing in international issues, public safety, environment and health care.  (See related article.)


More universities are creating programs to help match students to volunteer opportunities and to link community work with academic programs.Some service-learning programs are entirely student-run; others work in collaboration with the university or the community.

One example of a student-run program is National Student Partnerships (NSP).  Started by two undergraduate students at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1998, NSP operates a national network of drop-in resource centers, staffed by student volunteers from area universities.  Volunteers provide intensive on-site and referral services to low-income people. NSP has spread to 12 cities around the country and has mobilized more than 2,500 trained student volunteers.

Religious groups of all types engage in community service on university campuses. At Emory University in Atlanta, for example, members of the Muslim Students Association tutor refugee children at a local primary school and raise funds for earthquake and famine relief. The Emory Christian Fellowship is working to help revitalize a park in downtown Atlanta and members bake cookies for the patients of the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.

Another growing trend among college students is the “alternative spring break” movement, in which university students perform community service projects during their vacation week in March. Thousands of students each year build houses for low-income families, care for HIV/AIDS patients and tutor inner-city children.

A group of nine students from Vermont’s Middlebury College Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus, traveled to Mississippi to provide Hurricane Katrina relief work in March. More than 100 students from 10 universities worked together to repair 17 roofs in a heavily damaged neighborhood.  Middlebury trip leader Rebecca Steinberg said,  “It was an amazing experience that I know we will never forget.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service predicts service will continue to flourish in the United States. It estimates 5 million students will be engaged in volunteerism by 2010.

The full text of College Students Helping America (PDF, 27 pages) and a press release are available on the Corporation for National and Community Service Web site.

More information on National Student Partnerships is available on the organization’s Web site.

See also the electronic journals College and University Education in the United States and The United States: A Nation of Volunteers.

For additional information, see also Education and Volunteerism.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: