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Mandated Community Service in High School and Subsequent Civic Engagement: The Case of the Double Cohort in Ontario, Canada

NCJ Number
Journal of Youth and Adolescence Volume: 36 Issue: 7 Dated: October 2007 Pages: 849-860
Alisa Henderson; Steven D. Brown; S. Mark Pancer; Kimberly Ellis-Hale
Date Published
October 2007
12 pages
This study surveyed first-year university students on perceptions and attitudes about the nature and amount of previous volunteering, community service attitudes, current service involvement, and other measures of civic and political engagement in relation to mandatory volunteering policies.
The results found that high school community service, whether freely chosen or mandated impacted on skills development, and on students’ developing sense of civic responsibility and civic engagement. In 1999, the Ontario provincial government changed the high school curriculum requiring civics class and 40 hours of mandatory community service. At the same time, the high school curriculum was shortened from 5 years to 4. The 2003 Ontario high school graduating class contained two cohorts: the 4-year cohort that was mandated a community service graduation requirement, and the last of the 5-year cohort that was not. The existence of these two cohorts within the same high school graduation class afforded a unique opportunity to assess the impact of mandatory community service in two groups of students with similar backgrounds. The study assessed the short-term effects of the newly-introduced high school community service requirement. The government program mobilized a significant number of high school students who would not otherwise have invested time in community service; however students who were mandated to perform community service exhibited the same attitudes and perspectives about community engagement as those who were not mandated. The quality of the service experience was found to be a more important determinant of young people’s attitudes toward volunteering than was the mandated or non-mandated nature of the experience. Again, whether or not the service was of a sustained or short-term nature was more important than the mandatory nature of the service; the community service commitment must be of sustained nature to have the desired effects. The effects of high school community service on subsequent civic engagement was limited, but requiring community service ensures that more young people volunteer, and does not detract from their motivation to continue volunteering. Tables, references