Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Engaging with Difference Matters: Longitudinal Student Outcomes of Co-Curricular Service-Learning Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Engaging with Difference Matters: Longitudinal Student Outcomes of Co-Curricular Service-Learning Programs

Article excerpt

The potential contribution of co-curricular service-learning to develop engaged citizens is relatively unexplored. Much of the available research on college-level service-learning has studied the effect of service-learning in single courses on a variety of student outcome measures and there are at least two large, multi-campus studies of curricular service-learning (Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda, & Yee, 2000; Eyler & Giles, 1999). This article reports on analysis of longitudinal surveys completed at 23 liberal arts colleges by participants in four-year, co-curricular service-programs, collectively called the Bonner Scholar Program, sponsored by the Bonner Foundation.

The terms "service-learning" and "civic engagement" merit definition. The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (2005) defined service-learning as a "teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities." A frequent tendency in the field is to use the phrase service-learning and assume the reference is to academic service-learning based in coursework. Giles and Eyler's (1999) seminal study of programs that linked academic study with service acknowledged the value of co-curricular learning and, in defining service-learning, also mentioned "non-course-based programs that include a reflective component and learning goals" (p. 5). The terms service-learning and civic engagement have recently been used interchangeably in the field. The Bonner Scholar Program (BSP) studied here defines civic engagement as intentional participation in direct service, democratic process, and public policy (Hoy, 2006).

Multi-campus studies have demonstrated that college-based, curricular service-learning contributes to academic, civic, and personal outcomes. Eyler and Giles (1999) demonstrated that one-semester service-learning classes had significant, consistent, and modest effects on student personal, civic, cognitive and academic outcomes in multicampus pre-and post-tests (p. xvii). In another large, longitudinal study, Astin, Vogelgesang, Ikeda, and Yee (2000) compared the effects of classroom-based service-learning and other forms of community service. Students who participated in one or more service-learning classes and community service experiences which were enhanced by opportunities for reflective dialogue were more likely to evidence personal and academic growth that lasted through the end of the senior year than were students who participated only in academic service-learning (p. 41-42).

Little research exists on sustained co-curricular service-learning. This study explored two research questions to address that gap. Does co-curricular service-learning have an impact on desired outcomes of the college experience, particularly an appreciation of diversity and of dialogue across boundaries of perceived difference? A second question is reported separately. Do characteristics of liberal arts colleges (specifically, more or less internationally-focused, faith-oriented, diverse, urban or "elite") increase the effects of participation in co-curricular service-learning on college outcomes?

The Study

Study Context

Yearly, the BSP funds approximately 1,500 Bonner Scholars across 23-25 campuses, almost all traditionally-aged college students, and engages them in a four-year program that requires service while offering extensive training and support. Many participating colleges are located in Appalachia. (1) Ten to twenty students are selected yearly on each campus and are required to complete a minimum of ten hours of service, training, and reflection each week. In addition, the program provides financial support for two to three full-time service experiences for at least seven weeks in the summer or during co-op terms, including international service. By graduation, each Bonner Scholar has served at least 1,680 hours. …

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