0190-9320/00/0300-0045$18.00/0 ᮊ 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation
Political Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2000
COMMUNITY SERVICE BY HIGH
A Cure for Civic Ills?
Richard G. Niemi, Mary A. Hepburn, and
In response to what some see as a crisis in civic attitudes and participation, there has
been a reinvigorated effort to involve high school students in school-based commu-
nity activities and in less formal, volunteer community service. Yet little is known
about the extent of participation or its effects. Using a nationally representative sam-
ple of 9th–12th graders from 1996, we document a high participation rate but also
note that many students perform service only once or twice a year and in limited
capacities. Participation rates are related to certain student, family, and school char-
acteristics; school policies are also significant, though arranging but not requiring
participation may be the key. Participation appears to stimulate greater political
knowledge, more political discussions with parents, enhanced participation skills, and
higher political efficacy, but not more tolerance of diversity.
America has entered a watershed period—some say a crisis period—with
respect to citizen participation in politics and civil society (Putnam, 1995).
Voter turnout has fallen dramatically. Both political trust and interpersonal
trust, having fallen sharply in the 1960s and 1970s, remain low (National
Commission on Civic Renewal, 1998, p. 29). Numbers of college freshmen
who claim to discuss politics, keep up-to-date on politics, and vote in stu-
dent elections are all at record lows (Astin et al., 1997, pp. 28, 45, 57).
Young adults are especially indifferent, distrustful, and politically disen-
gaged (Rahn, 1997; Bennett and Rademacher, 1997; Brehm and Rahn,
1997), raising the prospects of even greater attrition in future civic involve-
Richard G. Niemi, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New
York 14627 (niemi࠽mail.rochester.edu); Mary A. Hepburn, Carl Vinson Institute of Govern-
ment, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602 (mhepburn࠽cviog.uga.edu); Chris Chapman,
National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 555 New Jersey Ave.,
N.W., Washington, DC 20208–5651 (chris chapman࠽ed.gov).