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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Volunteering should fill more of students’ free time

College students are the age demographic with the most spare time. We are also the age group that is least likely to devote time to volunteering and charitable organizations.

It’s not a pretty notion, certainly. But it seems to be true: according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the year ending in September 2008, only 54 percent of persons ages 19 to 24 were in the work force. That same demographic was the least likely to spend time volunteering, with only 18.6 percent spending more than one hour per week doing charitable work.

The statistic is surprising. Much more than one in five of us must devote some of our time to making the world better through non-profit organizations and charities. Fraternities and sororities often incorporate fundraising into their activities, and some majors require students to have volunteer hours in schools or hospitals. So that number can’t be right … right?

College students are busy! We have classes, jobs and social lives. There’s a perfectly respectable reason we don’t spend more time with people who need our help. However, the age group most likely to spend the most time volunteering is ages 35 to 44. Most people that age have kids, houses and full-time jobs. It takes a rare college student to be busier than a working mom with young children who also devotes her time, free of charge, to organizations that need volunteers.

The UA community is very active in helping people who need help. Programs like CATwalk raise money for cancer research, with thousands of UA students pitching in. Even the advisers in the Career Center say UA students are busy and active. The especially driven students, advisers said, might volunteer for experience in their chosen field. The advisers urge students to get involved with organizations that relate to their career path, like volunteering at a hospital for a biology major. So maybe that statistic of less than one in five students just doesn’t apply to this campus.

In many ways, UA students are interested in making the world a better place. Most of us don’t think we’re apathetic, and we care about the welfare of people everywhere. Much of the student body had a dramatic reaction to President Barack Obama’s campaign message of hope and change. But how many university students are actually actively involved in work with organizations that make the world better?

The Center for Student Involvement and Leadership houses most of the larger volunteer groups on campus. They say they don’t know exactly how many students take advantage of their programs, but the e-mail listserv sends information about volunteer opportunities to around 3,000 students. Hence, it is difficult to quantify the levels of volunteerism on campus.

The Department of Labor’s statistics were collected for the year ending in September 2008. In that same month, UA News reported that the UA’s enrollment was around 38,000 students, the majority of whom fall in the early-20s age demographic. By these numbers, if the UA is the same as the national average, about 7,000 students should be active in the community and spend more than one hour per week volunteering. And they probably do — not everyone who volunteers does so through the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership. It is still a bit disconcerting that only 9.5 percent of students are involved with the foremost campus organization for non-profits and charities.

UA students probably aren’t any worse than the national average for rates of student volunteerism. But having less than one in five of us involved in charity work for more than the time it takes to watch two episodes of “”Family Guy”” is nothing to be proud of. Organizations did not stop needing volunteers just because we stopped needing volunteer hours for our college applications.

The numbers aren’t pretty, and they don’t reflect all aspects of involvement. But instead of getting defensive and trying to prove that the unflattering statistics don’t apply to us, maybe we could spend an hour or two a week tutoring an underprivileged kid, or check out one of the alternative spring break voluntourism trips.

We’re doing okay, UA. But maybe we could do better.

— Anna Swenson is a sophomore majoring in English.

She can be reached at

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