Cultivating Public Service Motivation through AmeriCorps Service: A Longitudinal Study

Date01 January 2014
Published date01 January 2014
Kevin D. Ward is assistant professor
in the Institute of Public Service at Seattle
University, where he teaches public man-
agement and policy. His current research
focuses on national service programs, public
service motivation, and nonprof‌i t boards
of directors.
114 Public Administration Review • January | February 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 1, pp. 114–125. © 2013 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12155.
Kevin D. Ward
Seattle University
e public service motivation literature has helped schol-
ars and practitioners better understand who is attracted
to public service and why. However, little is understood
about how public service motivation in individuals may
be cultivated or how it changes over time.  is article
uses panel data collected by the Corporation for National
and Community Service to track the longitudinal ef‌f ects
of participation in the AmeriCorps national service pro-
gram on participants’ public service motivation. Findings
reveal that participation in AmeriCorps programs had
positive ef‌f ects on participants’ levels of commitment to
the public interest and civic awareness immediately after
the program; many of these program ef‌f ects were sustained
seven years later. However, when observed in isolation,
the comparison group showed signif‌i cant declines in levels
of commitment to public interest and civic awareness
over an eight-year period, suggesting that public service
motivation may initially decline upon entry into a public
service career.
As members of the baby boomer cohort con-
tinue to become eligible for retirement over
the next 15 years, human capital managers are
being forced to strategically plan for their succession
(GAO 2009). To address this impending exodus from
the workforce, it is necessary to better understand
who is attracted to service in the public and nonprof‌i t
sectors. Some public sector labor scholars have gener-
ated worker prof‌i les to help hiring managers under-
stand who is attracted to public service (Lewis and
Frank 2002). Other researchers have explored what
motivates individuals to pursue public and nonprof‌i t
sector careers (Perry and Hondeghem 2008a; Perry,
Hondeghem, and Wise 2010). By better understand-
ing these motives, managers can attract and retain
top talent while also improving
organizational performance.
However, little is understood
about how public service work
itself af‌f ects individual motiva-
tion or changes an individual’s
motivation over time. To
aid that understanding, the
public service motivation (PSM) literature is used to
investigate the longitudinal impact of participation
in AmeriCorps programs on individuals’ motives
and behaviors.  is research investigates several key
questions: Does PSM in individuals change over
time? Can PSM be cultivated? And if so, are changes
sustained over time?
AmeriCorps and Service
To understand this study, it is impor tant to brief‌l y
consider the nature and history of the AmeriCorps
program. Housed within the Corporation for
National and Community Service (CNCS),
AmeriCorps is a federally funded national service
program that began in 1994.  ough AmeriCorps
positions vary in length and commitment, typically,
AmeriCorps members agree to perform 1,700 hours
of service in exchange for a modest living stipend
and a $5,500 education award. Annually, more than
15,000 nonprof‌i t organizations, schools, and public
agencies are served by AmeriCorps members, includ-
ing organizations such as the American Red Cross,
Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Habitat for
Humanity. Since its inception, 800,000 people have
served in AmeriCorps programs, providing more than
1 billion hours of service (CNCS 2013).
Regarding the program as a tool with many func-
tions, advocates of AmeriCorps generally use a “Swiss
army knife” metaphor to describe its many purposes.
AmeriCorps provides an opportunity for Americans to
serve their country in a nonmilitary manner, leverages
volunteers in the nonprof‌i t sector in a cost-ef‌f ective
way, bridges social classes, cultivates a civic ethic in
young people, produces valuable outcomes in com-
munities, creates positive ef‌f ects
in program participants, and
helps develop the next gen-
eration of civic leaders (Perry
and Katula 2001; Perry and
omson 2004; Perry et al.
1999; Tschirhart et al. 2001;
Waldman 1995).  is article
Cultivating Public Service Motivation through
AmeriCorps Service: A Longitudinal Study
Little is understood about
how public service work itself
af‌f ects individual motivation or
changes an individual’s motiva-
tion over time.

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