Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Human Development, Counseling and Family Studies


Human Development, Counseling, and Family Studies

First Advisor

David Caruso


This study investigated the effects, in terms of moral development, of having undergraduate students engage in volunteer work with a community service agency as part of their course requirement.

The subject population consisted of 71 college ethics students enrolled in two classes of about equal size. Both classes met the same length of time, on the same days, and had the same teacher. One class, the experimental group, was required to complete twenty hours of volunteer work and keep a journal of their experiences. The other class, the control group, received a choice of a more traditional essay assignment or an extra test in lieu of the volunteer work

Assessment of the groups was carried out using the Defining Issues Test (Rest, 1979). Both groups were given a pre-test and a post-test and a questionnaire asking for data regarding their age, information on their family, their involvement in volunteer work, and their perception of their own moral improvement over the course of the semester.

Statistical analysis was carried out using at-test to compare difference between the gain in scores of the control and experimental groups, as well as a Pearson correlation matrix to determine the relationship between the various scores on the DIT test and other variables such as age, gender, class participation, final grade, and their own past volunteer work as well as their family's participation in volunteer work.

It was found that the class involved in community service work, the experimental group, experienced significantly higher gains in their moral development scores than the control group. Also, there was a high correlation between class participation and posttest DIT scores for the experimental group but not for the control group.

Stage 2 reasoners (the egoists) in the experimental group made the greatest gains in their DIT scores in either of the two classes, while stage 3 reasoners ("good boy, nice girl") in the experimental class made the poorest gains in either of the two classes. In fact, their posttest scores were lower than their pretest scores.

The results were related to the literature on moral development and to research on the use of volunteerism and discussion of "real life" moral dilemmas as educational tools. Implications for practical application of the findings in a classroom setting are discussed in addition to recommendations for future research.



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