Do Millennials help others—only to help themselves?

Dr. Wayne Baker is away. This week, he has invited Media Director Gayle Campbell to write about the challenges faced by her generation. Here’s her fourth column …

What’s driving Millennials to volunteer so much of their lives? Yesterday, we looked at some of the problems posed when Millennials flock to service programs in the midst of this bad economy. Today, let’s dig deeper into the motives—and the outcomes—when these adults aged 18-to-29 volunteer.

According to an annual study at the University of California-Los Angeles, two-thirds of college freshmen believe it is essential or very important to help others—the strongest that response has been in the last 25 years. Yet coinciding with this historic rise is another statistic from the same study—a bit of data that some could argue refutes the first: More than 70 percent of college freshmen also believe the chief benefit of college is to increase one’s earning power—the highest percentage ever reported since the study was first conducted in 1971. (Care to read the report? Here’s a 4-page PDF of the UCLA findings.)

What do these figures mean? In short, volunteerism looks good on a resume—most employers highly regard community service, and some universities even require students to log hours as volunteers. Many service programs attract new applicants by offering benefit packages that include job placement support, priority for federal employment, or highly-valued networking opportunities. Recent graduates are quickly jumping on these opportunities.

So, are Millennials helping others—only to help themselves?

Statistics from programs like Teach for America tell us otherwise. More than 30 percent of the program’s alumni stay in the classroom after completing their two years of service, and more than 60 percent remain in the field of education. The Peace Corps boasts high percentages of returned volunteers in the non-profit and development sectors. Intensive application processes as well as grueling work assignments may also help ensure that those whose only motives are self-interest are quickly weeded out.

How do you see the relationship between motives and outcomes? Does volunteering change a person’s path in life? Or, are volunteers entering these programs with intentions to continue in similar sectors? And, are young people helping—to help themselves?

Do motives matter?

If you’ve signed up to volunteer, what motivated you?

How should we weigh our need for money—with our hope of helping?

Please, Comment below before you leave.

(Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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