How leading Universities like Colorado State and Ohio are redefining student engagement
Engaging Volunteer Workforces
Colleges and university campuses have always been a hotbed of volunteerism. Whether mandated by curriculums, as a way of driving important social connections or a mixture of both, volunteering is a way of life for students.
Of those 77-plus million volunteers, almost one in five assist in educational or youth services programs, according to the same research, making it the third most-common form of volunteering, behind religious and sport, cultural and arts. This most commonly equates to tutoring or teaching, with 23% of volunteers saying they donate their time in this way. However, this only scratches the surface of the student volunteering phenomena, as the volunteering experience of many students touch on a host of categories and causes – from health, public safety and civic to political, sporting or environmental.
However, the flipside of this is that research consistently shows that those in the college-aged demographic bracket are less engaged than many other generations when it comes to volunteering.
We’ve compiled these findings along with industry insights and commentary.
The state of student volunteering
In seeking to understand both the current challenges of the student volunteering sector and also the potential opportunities, it is crucial to understand how social and communal outlooks differ across various generations.
Sarah Stephens, Senior Program Coordinator of Community Engagement at Colorado State University’s Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement office, says that Gen Z students are already starting to make their mark in their volunteering habits. “We’re dealing mostly with undergraduates, which means Generation Z. They’re altruistic and community-minded, but also entrepreneurial and career-based, which is a great mix for encouraging volunteers because they’re very aware of causes and so engaged in trying to make a difference,” she says.
This data trend is backed up by the experience of Wheaton College’s Director, Office of Christian Outreach & Student Development, Yulee Lee, who oversees a robust culture of volunteering and service. Wheaton, a top liberal arts college, has had more than one-third of its 2,300 undergraduates take part in volunteering opportunities so far this year. “We’ve seen an increase in the desire to volunteer year-on-year. We’ve historically had around 400 students per month placed in external volunteering roles, and this year that has doubled to 800 students. Freshmen and sophomore classes especially, the younger generations, are actively seeking out opportunities to be part of something bigger than themselves,” she says.
The Global-Minded Gen Z
Stephens also agrees that the volunteering data is starting to tick upward as more Gen Z students enter college: “Gen Z are global-minded and want to be activists, and I think that plays a big part in why our volunteer numbers are now going up - Last spring we had 2,200 volunteers and I only had enough projects for 1,500,” she says.
Yet universities are still nowhere near realizing the full potential of Gen Z, according to research by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy in 2018. The report, ‘Good Intentions, Gap in Action’, found that 77.5% of freshmen think that helping others in difficulty is either essential or very important – the highest percentage in the 51-year history of the survey. That figure has risen by 11% since 2006. Yet volunteerism among college students has remained stagnant over this period in spite of this, illustrating the vast number of students who are sympathetic to voluntary causes but don’t ever engage while at college, despite ample opportunities to do so.