Fillip for Clinton voluntary work

May 31, 1996

President Bill Clinton has scored a small victory in his long-running tug of war with the United States Congress over Americorps, his prized civilian national service programme.

Evidence released from a survey of young people points to positive benefits of volunteer work in the community by students.

The Republican House of Representatives, controlled by Speaker Newt Gingrich, has voted to "zero out" Americorps by denying any funding in the 1997 budget. Patterned on military service, Americorps rewards students who go out into their community with college subsidies. It is not the first time that Republicans have tried to choke it.

But a survey of a sister programme of Americorps claims to show convincingly that volunteerism has broad positive effects on students involved and for the schools, charities and government agencies where they work.

Conducted jointly by the Rand Corporation and the University of California's Higher Education Research Institute, the study took 2,309 students involved with the "Learn and Serve" programme and compared them to more than 1,000 who did not participate.

"Learn and Serve" encourages students to do community service in college, where possible as part of their coursework. It is run by the Corporation for National Service, which also runs the Americorps programme. The researchers also contacted several hundred schools, pre-schools, homeless shelters, old people's homes, battered women's shelters, prisoner education groups, environmental organisations and other places where the students worked.

"It was a remarkable result," said study co-director Alexander Astin. "Just about every aspect of the student's life is influenced positively."

On measures of grades, the level of contact with professors, critical thinking, self-confidence and social engagement there were small but significant improvements associated with volunteer work, he said.

On the receiving end, "essentially the community organisations were very pleased with these students", said the Rand Corporation's Maryann Gray. On average they said students showed a "very high" level of effectiveness working both with children and low-income and homeless people.

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