What are the benefits of service-learning?
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Service-learning offers a range of benefits for students, faculty, community partners, and institutions. For information about how to realize these benefits please see our Service-Learning Best Practices.
Benefits for Students
Service-learning can positively impact students in a variety of ways. Service-learning improves students’ personal efficacy, academic learning outcomes, commitment to service, moral development, and leadership and communications skills (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001). Service-learning benefits can be especially consequential to Low-Income First Generation (LIFG) college students. Yeh (2010) presents a framework linking service-learning to growth in four dimensions that influence persistence in college among LIFG college students. These dimensions are academic, psychosocial, personal and spiritual, and sociocultural/sociopolitical.
Yeh (2010) indicates academic under preparation as a challenge for LIFG students, but gaining skills and a deeper understanding of course content translates to academic growth. Service-learning students apply academic concepts in a real life situation, which reinforces classroom learning by allowing students to apply theoretical concepts. Service-learning projects call on students to exercise practical skills like networking, public speaking, organizing, and leadership while planning projects and interacting with their peers and the community members. Service-learning opportunities often lead students to involvement in other non-traditional learning opportunities like study abroad or undergraduate research that further academic integration.
Yeh (2010) explains that students gain self-confidence when they see that they have the ability to make an impact through service-learning and use their service activities as a way to cope with stress. Students engaged in service-learning can find networks while working with fellow students, faculty and staff, and community members that provide support and a sense of connection to the institution and community. Thus, students develop resilience to combat feelings of alienation and lack of support that commonly hinder LIFG students.
Personal and Spiritual Growth
Yeh (2010) points out that students find personal meaning when service-learning exposes them to encounters that influence their future educational or career goals, and when they are able to help people who share similar backgrounds. Discovering a personal context in education is a source of inspiration and desire for self-improvement that encourages students to continue with their education.
Sociocultural and Sociopolitical Growth
Yeh (2010) suggests that students develop critical consciousness when they are able to see societal inequities and question the factors that lead to inequality and injustice. Sociocultural and sociopolitical growth result from heightened awareness and knowledge of societal inequities and can motivate students to persist in college in the hopes of facilitating social and political change.
Benefits for Faculty
Service-learning presents many professional and personal opportunities for faculty, including:
- Research and publication outlets
- Stronger faculty-student relationships (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001)
- Potential to impact the student complexity of understanding, problem analysis, and critical thinking (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001)
- Ability to practice scholarship of application to serve the greater good (Boyer, 1990)
Benefits for Community Partners
Sandy & Holland (2006) found that community partners are motivated to participate in service-learning for the following reasons:
- Student volunteers from service-learning classes can sustain and enhance organizational capacity to help fulfill and advance an organization’s mission.
- Students can positively impact client outcomes serving as effective mentors, tutors, or companions.
- Community partners can gain access to information and academic research to enhance their operations.
- Community partners can develop broader community networks and relationships with other organizations partnering with the institution.
- Association with the university increases visibility of an organization’s work.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s elective Classification on Community Engagement recognizes community-engaged institutions of higher education by evaluating their mission, identity, and commitment to the public good. Institutions seeking the classification undergo a process of self-assessment and quality improvement of institutional practice regarding community engagement (NERCHE, n.d.). Receiving the Carnegie Classification legitimizes and brings attention to an institution’s community engagement endeavors and demonstrates commitment to public service (Campus Compact, 2015). The Carnegie Foundation identifies areas in need of continued development among all institutions and urges higher education institutions to “initiate study, dialogue, and reflection to promote and reward the scholarship of engagement more fully” (NERCHE, n.d., para. 3).
Regional accreditation bodies are increasingly supportive of community engagement and are beginning to include indicators of engagement in their assessments of institutional quality (Weerts & Sandmann 2010). The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (2013) has identified service-learning and community-based learning as high impact practices (as cited in Kuh, 2008) that 14 percent of institutions have identified in their Quality Enhancement Plans.
The SACS Commission on Colleges (2012) Principles of Accreditation require that “The institution has a clearly defined, comprehensive, and published mission statement that is specific to the institution and appropriate for higher education. The mission addresses teaching and learning, and, where applicable, research and public service” (p.18). SACS (2012) also requires that,
“The institution identifies expected outcomes, assesses the extent to which it achieves these outcomes, and provides evidence of improvement based on analysis of the results in each of the following areas: educational programs, to include student learning outcomes, administrative support services, research within its mission, if appropriate, and community/public service within its mission, if appropriate” (p. 27).
These guidelines underscore the importance of community engagement as a metric for accreditation.
The University of Mississippi’s mission asserts that “the state’s oldest university serves the people of Mississippi and the world through a breadth of academic, research and professional programs. In pursuit of this mission The University of Mississippi “fosters a civil community of shared governance and collaborative endeavors, and devotes its knowledge and abilities to serve the state and the world” (University of Mississippi, n.d., p. 6). Priority 7 of the UM 2020 Strategic Plan affirms a commitment to the greater good by promoting Transformation through Service, stating that “through civic engagement and service, the University will purposefully apply its talent and knowledge so as to transform individuals, communities, and regions” (University of Mississippi, n.d., p. 23).
For information about how to realize these benefits please see our Service-Learning Best Practices.
A complete list of references for this article is available here.