Up to two-thirds of UC Berkeley students volunteer in community service according to new campus survey

by Patricia McBroom

Berkeley -- Students at the University of California at Berkeley volunteer for community service in large numbers, according to the first-ever survey of volunteering among its graduating seniors.

The survey -- administered to more than 2,500 students who earned bachelor's degrees in 1994 -- found that up to two-thirds had done community service at some point in their undergraduate years.

"We always assumed there was a significant amount of community involvement by Cal students, but we had no good baseline data before now. We are gratified to see these numbers," said Paul Terrell, a member of the campus's Chancellor's Advisory Committee on National and Community Service, which requested the information.

Tutoring students, including elementary and high school students, was by far the most common volunteer activity. Forty percent of volunteers identified tutoring and instruction as their major service activity.

Some, but not all, of these students were tutoring in public schools through programs sponsored by the university to encourage community service.

For example, Terrell, who teaches in the School of Social Welfare, currently supervises a program that places 15 UC Berkeley student volunteers per year in Willard Junior High School, where they mentor students who have academic or social problems. The student volunteers spend four hours per week at Willard providing guidance, instruction and friendship as big brothers and sisters. Similar programs are sponsored by several other departments on campus, said Terrell.

While such organized field study programs often provide academic credit, most of the students volunteering do not earn formal credit for their work.

"Students volunteer for a variety of reasons," said Terrell, "but most just want to provide some helpful service to people who are less fortunate."

Aside from tutoring, UC Berkeley students volunteer in a wide range of activities, including work in nursing homes, hospitals, day care, youth agencies and arts, cultural, environmental and religious organizations.

The sample of 2,854 students who received the survey were scientifically selected to represent a total of 5,674 graduates in the class of 1993-94.

Information on their volunteer activity came from a larger survey on employment, education and the Berkeley experience which is given every two years to UC Berkeley's graduating class. Questions on community service comprised a small part of the 41-item survey which is aimed primarily at evaluating the career interests of students compared to their academic preparation.

The survey was returned by one-third of the students sampled, a higher return rate than in 1992 when only 23 percent of students returned it, but lower than in the mid-1980s when more than 50 percent did.

University analysts believe the changes in response rate are due to economic recession in California which has made students in the1990s less willing to answer a survey about employment and career plans.

But that would not significantly alter results on the questions about volunteer activity, said Gregg Thomson, director of the Office of Student Research that carried out the survey.

He said that survey respondants are "broadly representative of the graduating class as a whole." He also said that so many students are volunteering that small statistical changes in one direction or another would not alter the fundamental picture.

For information, contact Paul Terrell at (510) 642-8039.

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