Measuring AmeriCorps

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AmeriCorps volunteers leave the State and National program and the NCCC feeling more connected to their communities, more likely to vote, to participate in community meetings and with a greater sense of duty to their neighbors.

That’s according to an eight-year study concluded in 2007, which categorizes all those things as civic engagement.

“The strongest finding was in the area of civic engagement,” said Peter Frumkin, faculty director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy.

“Personal development and social capital were less strong,” he said. The first includes building strengths or talents, or finding one’s identity. Social capital means the networks and relationships that help people get along better in life.

“It’s a good option for a young person trying to figure out what they [sic] want to do before college, after college, in a gap year,” said Frumkin.

Some effects were sporadic, or nonexistent, like group cohesion and educational attainment.

“The AmeriCorps program made one thing worse: and that was tolerance and acceptance of diversity within the residential program, NCCC.”  People living together on NCCC campuses reported more hostility and less tolerance of differences among themselves. “The good news,” said Frumkin, “is in the long term that faded.”

The report “Serving Country and Community: A Longitudinal Study of Service in AmeriCorps” followed some 2,000 State and National or NCCC volunteers from the beginning of their 1999-2000 year of service through 2007. For a control group, during the same time period, the study also followed a similar number of people who qualified for the same volunteer slots but did not join.

Frumkin noted limitations of the study: For one, both the AmeriCorps graduates and the control group tend to be more motivated to get involved in civic life than the general population, which limits the conclusions to the impact of service on people who are already motivated.