State of the Field: Youth Community Service in the USA

  • Edward Metz


In recent decades in the United States, the field of youth community service has burgeoned. In K-12 schools and on college campuses, community service programs are now commonplace and many classrooms use service-learning as an academic intervention. On the national level, federal programs and nonprofit organizations lead large-scale initiatives to engage youth in volunteerism. And in recent years, full-time service programs for recent high school and college graduates are seeing record numbers of applications and enrollments. Given this infrastructure and the willingness of young people to get involved if asked to do so, it is not surprising that today’s youth are serving at historically high rates. Despite the promise, youth community service has yet to reach its potential. Researchers and practitioners have highlighted a gap between what are known to be the key elements for effective service – and how programs are actually carried out. On a national policy level, the field has not gained traction in mainstream education circles, partially because findings from rigorous research studies of national service programs have yielded inconsistent or null results. This chapter in the Handbook of Child Well-Being provides an overview of, and describes the current landscape for, youth community service in the United States.


Community Service Civic Engagement Service Program Positive Youth Development National Service 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. After-school Alliance. (2012). Facts and Research. Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  2. Barber, B. (1994). An aristocracy of everyone: The politics of education and the future of America. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batson, C., Jasnoski, M., & Hanson, M. (1978). Buying kindness: Effect of an extrinsic incentive for helping on perceived altruism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 86–91.Google Scholar
  4. Boyte, H. (1991). Community service and civic education. Phi Delta Kappan, 72, 765–767.Google Scholar
  5. Carnegie Corporation. (2003). The civic mission of schools. Report released by CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  6. Child Trends. (2011). Volunteering. Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  7. Clemmit, M. (2012). Youth volunteerism: Should schools require students to perform public service. CQ Researcher, 22, 4.Google Scholar
  8. Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. (2007). AmeriCorps: Changing lives, changing America. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  9. Corporation for National and Community Service, Office or Research and Policy Development. (2008). Still serving: Measuring the eight year impact of Americorps on alumni. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  10. Covitt, B. (2002). Motivating environmentally responsible behavior through service learning. Corporation for National and Community Service.Google Scholar
  11. Erikson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  12. Finn, C., & Vanourek, G. (1995). Charity begins at home. Commentary, 100, 46–53.Google Scholar
  13. Fiske, E. B. (2001). Learning in deed. The power of service-learning for American schools. Battle Creek: W.K. Kellogg Foundation.Google Scholar
  14. Flanagan, C., & Faison, N. (2001). Youth civic development: Implications of research for social policy and implementation of programs. Social Policy Report, 15(1). Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  15. Frumkin, P., & Jastrzab, J. (2010). Serving country and community: Who benefits from national service? Serving country and community: Who benefits from national service? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Furco, A. (2002). Is service-learning really better than community service? A study from high school service program outcomes (pp. 23–53). In A. Furco & S. Billig (Eds.) Service learning: The Essence of the Pedagogy. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Gallant, K., Smale, B., & Arai, S. (2010). Civic engagement through mandatory community service: Implications for school leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 42, 181–201.Google Scholar
  18. Hart, D., Donnelly, T., Youniss, J., & Atkins, B. (2007). High school community service as a predictor of adult voting and volunteering. America Educational Research Journal, 44, 197–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Helms, S. (2006). Essays on volunteering. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Maryland, Maryland.Google Scholar
  20. Independent Sector. (2002). Giving and volunteering among American youth. Available at Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  21. Jennings, M. K. (2002). Generation units and the student protest movement in the United States: An intra- and intergenerational analysis. Political Psychology, 23, 303–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kahne, J., & Middaugh, E. (2008). Democracy for some: The civic opportunity gap in high school (Working paper #59). Medford: CIRCLE, Tufts University.Google Scholar
  23. Kahne, J., & Westheimer, J. (1996). In service of what? The politics of service learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 593–599.Google Scholar
  24. Kahne, J., Crow, D., & Lee, N. J. (2012). Different pedagogy, different politics: High school learning opportunities and youth political engagement. Political Psychology.Google Scholar
  25. Keeter, S., Zukin, C., Andolina, M., & Jenkins, K. (2002). The civic and political health of the nation: A generational portrait. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).Google Scholar
  26. Kirby, E., Kawashima-Ginsberg, K., & Godsay, S. (2011). Youth volunteering in the states: 2002 to 2009. CIRCLE Fact Sheet.Google Scholar
  27. Laird, M., & Black, S. (2002). Report for U.S. department of education expert panel on safe, disciplined, and drug free schools. Annapolis Junction: Lions Quest.Google Scholar
  28. Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 170–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lerner, R. (2004). Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Levine, P. (2008). Service-learning and the national education debate. In growing to greatness. National Youth Leadership Council. Available at:
  31. Lopez, M. (2002). Youth attitudes towards civic engagement and community service requirements. Report from The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE).Google Scholar
  32. Lopez, M., Levine, P., Both, D., Kiesa, A., Kirby, E., & Marcelo, K. (2006). The 2006 civic and political health of the nation: A detailed look at how youth participate in politics and communities. Available at:
  33. Mahoney, J., Larson, R., Eccles, J., & Lord, H. (2005). Organized activities as development contexts for children and adolescents. In J. Mahoney, R. Larson, & J. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development (pp. 3–22). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  34. Martin, A. (1996). Citizenship or slavery? How schools take the volunteer out of volunteering. Utne Reader, 14–16 May–June 1996.Google Scholar
  35. McLellan, J. A., & Youniss, J. (2003). Two systems of youth service: Determinants of voluntary and required youth community service. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32(1), 47–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Melchior, A. (1999). Final report: National evaluation of Learn and Serve America and community-based programs. Center for Human Resources, Brandeis University, Waltham.Google Scholar
  37. Melchior, A., & Bailis, L. N. (2002). Impact of service-learning on civic attitudes and behaviors of middle and high school youth: Findings from three evaluations. In A. Furco & S. Billig (Eds.), Service-learning: The essence of the pedagogy (pp. 201–222). Greenwich: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  38. Metz, E., & Youniss, J. (2003). A demonstration that school-based required service does not deter – but heightens – volunteerism. PS-Political Science and Politics, 36, 281–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Metz, E., & Youniss, J. (2004). Using the 1996:1999 NHES data sets to further examine types of community service participation among students. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  40. Metz, E., & Youniss, J. (2005). Longitudinal gains in civic development through school-based required service. Political Psychology, 26(3), 413–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Metz, E., McLellan, J., & Youniss, J. (2003). Types of voluntary service and adolescents’ civic development. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 188–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Morrissey, K. M., & Werner-Wilson, R. (2005). The relationship between out of school time activities and positive youth development: An investigation of the influences of community and family. Adolescence, 40(157), 67–85.Google Scholar
  43. Musick, M., & Wilson, J. (2008). Volunteers: A social profile. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  44. National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2010). Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  45. Newmann, F., & Rutter, R. (1984). The effects of high school community service programs on students’ social development: Final report. University of Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, Madison.Google Scholar
  46. Niemi, R. G., & Junn, J. (1998). Civic education: What makes students learn. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Nolin, M. J., Chaney, B., Chapman, C., & Chandler, K. (1997). Student participation in community service activity (NCES 97-331). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  48. NYLC. (2008). The service-learning cycle. Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  49. Oesterie, S., Kilpatrick, M., & Mortimer, J. (2004). Volunteerism during the transition to adulthood: A life course perspective. Social Forces, 48(3), 1123–1149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Omoto, A., & Snyder, M. (1995). Sustained helping without obligation: Motivation, longevity of service, and perceived attitudinal change among AIDS volunteers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 671–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pedersen, S., & Seidman, E. (2005). Contexts and correlates of out-of-school activity participation among low-income urban adolescents. In J. Mahoney, R. Larson, & J. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development (pp. 85–110). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  52. Penner, L. A., Fritzsche, B. A., Craigner, J. P., & Freifeld, T. S. (1995). Measuring prosocial personality. In J. N. Butcher & C. D. Spielberg (Eds.), Advances in personality assessment (Vol. 12, pp. 147–163). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  53. Perry, J., & Thompson, A. (2003). Civic service: What difference does it make? Armonk/New York: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
  54. Pickeral, T. (2008). Service learning and citizenship education. In C. Flanagan, & L. Sherrod (Eds.), Youth activism: An international encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  55. Planty, M., & Regnier, M. (2003). Volunteer service by young people from high school through early adulthood. U.S. Department of Education NCES 2003-421, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  56. Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Shuster.Google Scholar
  57. Raskoff, S., & Sundeen, R. (1999). Community service programs in high schools. Law and Contempary Problems, 62, 73–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sax, L. J., Astin, A. W., Korn, W. S., & Mahoney, K. M. (1999). The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1998. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.Google Scholar
  59. Sobus, M. (1995). Mandating community service: The psychological implications of requiring pro-social behavior. Law and Psychology Review, 19, 153–182.Google Scholar
  60. Spring, K., Grimm, R., & Dietz, N. (2008). Community service and service-learning in America’s schools. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service.Google Scholar
  61. Stoecker, R., & Tyron, E. (2009). Unheard voices: Community organizations and service-learning. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Tysvaer, N. (2012). ICP’s 2010 pilot summer of service first year findings of participant outcomes. Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  63. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic volunteerism in American politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Volunteering in America. (2012). Corporation for National and Community Service. Available at: Accessed on December 10, 2012.
  65. Walker, T. (2002). Service as a pathway to political participation: What research tells us. Applied Developmental Science, 6, 183–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Youniss, J., & Yates, M. (1996). Community service and social responsibility in youth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  67. Youniss, J., McLellan, J., & Yates, M. (1997). What we know about engendering civic identity. The American Behavioral Scientist, 40, 620–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Zaff, J., & Michelsen, E. (2002). Encouraging civic engagement: How teens are (or are not) becoming responsible citizens. Washington, DC: Child Trends.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.US Department of EducationInstitute of Education SciencesWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations