Students Who Wish to Do Good Are Not Backed by Action

The Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland serves as the campus-wide hub of social innovation and as a center of research and thought leadership in philanthropy and social change. Good Intentions, Gap in Action, a newly published report from The Do Good Institute illustrates high school and college students have a high interest in doing good, but this interest is not translating to actions such as volunteering.

Students Want to Volunteer

Since the 1960s, the Higher Education Research Institute’s Freshman Survey has been offered to first-year college students around the country. The results of the 2016 survey showed 77 percent of first-year college students said “helping others who are in difficulty” was “very important” or “essential” to them—that’s a 51-year high! From 2014-2016, the number of students who dubbed “becoming a community leader” as important increased from 36.4 percent to 43.1 percent—nearly a seven-point increase. The interest in contributing to community development through civic engagement is apparent, but something is hindering execution. 

But Students Aren’t Actually Volunteering

Statistics from the Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics show that between 2013 and 2015, about 2.8 million high school students (aged 15 years +) volunteered nearly 237 million hours annually and almost 3.1 million college students volunteered about 331 million hours. While these numbers sound impressive, looking at the percentage of student volunteers puts this into context. A little more than a quarter of high school (28.5 percent) and college students (26.1 percent) actually volunteered from 2013-2015. Overall, volunteer rates for both high school and college students peaked in 2003, dropped significantly in 2006 and have remained stagnant for more than 10 years.

What’s Going On?

“Youth’s historically high interest in doing good will not automatically translate into action without the right opportunities,” said Robert Grimm, Director of the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland.  “We need more, innovative educational experiences that offer youth the opportunity to make an impact today and spark a lifetime of community engagement.”

If high schools and college campuses provided more opportunities and experiences for community engagement inside and outside the classroom, the Institute expects to see innovation enhanced, learning enriched, students inspired and a long-term cycle of engagement developed.

The full report, Good Intentions, Gap in Action, provides an in-depth look at student volunteer rates on a state level. These rates range from 13.6 in Louisiana to 43.8 in Maine. I encourage you to check it out!

Melissa Grannetino

MELISSA GRANNETINO is an Engagement Specialist at Foundation Center where she leads training programs, plans events and assists in fundraising. Melissa has several years of experience in fundraising, research and program evaluation. She has served as a member of the selection committee for Advancement in Management (AIM) Award Competition (formerly known as The Washington Post Award). Prior to joining Foundation Center she developed and implemented donor cultivation and stewardship programs at both The Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Museum of Natural History. She holds a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History and Sociology/Anthropology from Denison University.