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Assessing the Effects of Voluntary Youth Service: The Case of Teach for America

From: Social Forces
Volume 88, Number 2, December 2009
pp. 945-970 | 10.1353/sof.0.0279

Abstract

Abstract:

We use survey data from all accepted applicants to Teach for America 1993-98 to assess the longer-term effect of youth service on participants' current civic attitudes and behaviors. While TFA "graduates" score higher than the two comparison groups–"dropouts" and "non-matriculants"–on a broad range of attitudinal items measuring civic commitment, these differences appear to be less a byproduct of the TFA experience than a reflection of current involvement with the TFA organization. Moreover, the attitudinal differences are not reflected in actual civic behavior. Specifically, graduates lag behind non-matriculants in current service activity and generally trail both non-matriculants and drop-outs in self-reported participation in five other forms of civic/ political activity measured in the study. Graduates also vote at lower rates than the other two groups. Finally, fewer graduates report employment in "pro-social" jobs than either non-matriculants or drop-outs. We close by speculating on what mechanisms may help explain variation in the long-term effects of youth service or activist experiences.