Service Learning in Health Administration Programs

Article excerpt


This article provides an introduction to service learning, a brief history/theoretical framework of service learning, followed by highlights of service learning projects as reported, using an electronic survey of members of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). The AUPHA, which originated more than fifty years ago, has as one of it core components: to be a leader in transferring new pedagogical techniques and technology in health management education.


Service learning is gaining popularity as a novel pedagogical tool to enhance learning in educational institutions across the country. As recent as 1998, the Wingspread Conference was held at the University of Michigan Center for Community Service. The purpose of the conference was to renew the civic mission of the American research university. Collaborators and sponsors of the conference included the University of Michigan Center for Community Service and Learning, the Association of American Universities, the American Association of Higher Education, the American Council of Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Campus Compact, New England Resource Center for Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania Center for University Partnerships, the Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Likewise, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA), a not for profit association of university based educational programs, faculty and provider organizations has embraced unique learning opportunities as components of its mission Components of the AUPHA mission are: to promote graduate and undergraduate curriculum reforms and faculty development which respond to the changing needs of the health services delivery system. The mission also aims to improve the health of communities and to be a leader in transferring new pedagogical techniques and technology to health management education. Thus, service learning is a timely mechanism to meet the new challenges in health care and the needs for curriculum reforms (Reed 2003).

By definition, service learning is an academic and community partnership that combines service and learning to meet the mutually defined needs of the partners (Shaffer, Mather and Gustafson, 2000). Hecht (1999) described service learning as an experiential teaching and learning method that provides students with the opportunity to apply both academic and non-academic skills in real-life situations--towards a common cause and identifiable goal in the community. Dell Carpini and Keeter (2000) distinguish service learning from both community service and traditional civic education by the integration of study with hands-on activity outside the classroom; typically through a collaborative effort to address a community problem.

In essence, most service learning projects have been designed to integrate community service into the curriculum--in order to enrich the students' learning of the course materials and to provide a community service. Additionally, the service learning projects have been designed to promote civic responsibility by working collaboratively with community agencies in health promotion / service delivery. The educational process often requires the active involvement of students in the training, development, overall implementation of the program. In this article, a survey of forty-three undergraduate health administration programs with membership in the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, was conducted to determine factors related to the frequency, design, implementation and evaluation of service learning projects. Strengths, weaknesses and benefits were also reviewed in relation to the survey. The results yielded five enlightening accounts of service learning experiences in the college / university setting.

History / Theoretical Framework

The idea of service learning was reported as having developed from an educational philosophy that encourages active learning to fulfill social responsibilities (Mueller and Norton 1998). …


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