Wofford Students with a group of kids

Community-Based Learning is good - really good! - for our students – for learning and for building meaningful lives.

Civic engagement is a high-impact educational practice (HIP) that supports students’ deep learning (including components of analysis, synthesis and integrative learning), according to research involving data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).  Examining NSSE data for 20,000+ students, Finley and McNair (2013) reported that service-learning produces, on average, an 8.7 points gain on deep learning, the largest gain of any HIP they studied.  Further, they found that when students participate in three or more HIPs, differences in deep learning are greater than 24 points. Yet, the average student in this national study participated in only 1.3 HIPs by graduation.

In a landmark study drawing on a survey involving more than 22,000 undergraduates at a national sample of baccalaureate-granting institutions, Astin et al. (2000) found that service participation shows significant positive effects on academic performance, values, self-efficacy, leadership, career choice and civic participation after college.

Student engagement in civic-minded work contributes to healthy behavior and practices.  Related studies with consortia of institutions involved in the Bringing Theory to Practice initiative point to the connection of engaged learning, civic involvement and psychosocial well-being or flourishing (Finley, 2014). 

A Gallup study found that three experiential factors highly correlate with post-graduate workplace success and personal satisfaction in life.  They are: working on a project for a semester or more; having an internship or volunteer experience where one can apply learning; and being extremely active in extracurricular life.  Community engagement offers opportunities for students to engage in all three, but only 6% of graduates in this landmark study involving more than 30,000 graduates strongly agreed that they had done all three (Ray & Kafka, 2015). 

Wofford is one of roughly 30 institutions that hosts a Bonner Scholars Program. Drawing on a seven-year study, Keen and Hall (2009) reported that involvement in the four-year program contributes to students’ leadership development, internalization of civic commitments, and post-graduate civic involvement.  Analysis of more than 3,000 alumni nationwide suggested that graduates show markedly higher “civic professionalism,” have made career choices shaped by their involvement and remain civically active after college (Richard et al., 2011). 

Community engagement can help students get great jobs after graduation. According to AAC&U’s report, It Takes More than a Major (2013), employers are looking to us to instill civic values and offer civic experiences:

  • 91% of employers agree that, “all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.”
  • 87% of employers agree, “all students should learn about ethical issues and public debates important in their field.”
  • 86% of employers agree, “all students should have direct learning experiences working with others to solve problems important in their communities.”
  • 82% of employers agree, “all students should take courses that build knowledge, judgement, commitment to communities, ensure integrity and the vitality of our democracy.”
Not only is community engagement great for students, they really want it too! 
Why community engagement for students figure
Source: A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future (2012), p. 5