Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Outcomes for Students Completing a University Public Service Graduation Requirement: Phase 3 of a Longitudinal Study

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Outcomes for Students Completing a University Public Service Graduation Requirement: Phase 3 of a Longitudinal Study

Article excerpt

University students who were required to engage in academic public service during college were surveyed just before completion of their undergraduate studies. Views of the graduation requirement remained positive, as they had been at college entry and after two years of study. Civic attitudes, knowledge, and skills were quite stable over four years. At graduation, students maintained increases in valuing of community engagement and in civic knowledge that were seen after two years of college, and showed increases in social justice attitudes and self-ratings of interpersonal skills and civic knowledge. Students reported positive outcomes of their public service, especially in the areas of civic/cultural perspectives and leadership/social skills, and many expected to include a civic responsibility aspect in their careers. Civic interests at college entry and service involvement during college made independent contributions to predictions of civic outcomes and attitudes; although initial civic interest influences gains, college service experiences play an important and unique role in determining students' civic outcomes.

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This paper describes the third phase of a longitudinal study conducted at Tulane University, designed to learn about students' reactions to a public service graduation requirement instituted after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to assessing students' reactions to the requirement, the study provided the opportunity to learn about how civic attitudes, knowledge, and skills changed over the college years and to learn about outcomes of public service experiences.

There have been only a few longitudinal studies in the area of students' civic development. Several studies have used retrospective data to attempt to identity early influences on civic engagement (Fenzel & Peyrot, 2005; Warchal & Ruiz, 2004), but these have used the recollections of participants, which may or may not be reliable, and therefore have questionable validity (Achenbach, 1978; Yarrow, Campbell, & Burton, 1970). Other studies have employed short-term longitudinal designs (Bringle, Hatcher, & Muthiah, 2010; Conway, Amel, & Gerwien, 2009; Kiely, 2004,2005), looking at students over a semester of college or an academic year in precollege classes.

Several longitudinal studies have shown benefits of service-learning for civic and academic outcomes measured several years after participation: Vogelgesang (2009) and Vogelgesang and Astin (2000) showed that involvement in service-learning predicted positive outcomes for civic values and choices of service-related careers by students at the end of four years of college. Lockeman and Pelco (2013) followed a group of more than 3,000 students for six years as they completed their studies at a large urban public university. They tracked student progress through the college years and found that service-learning participation was related to several academic indicators, including credits earned, GPA's, and degree completion. Keen and Hall (2009) reported positive effects of programmatic service involvement on both civic and interpersonal skills of college students. They surveyed Bonner Scholars at college entry, two years later, and at college graduation, and found that the scholars increased from college entry to graduation in social justice attitudes and in self-evaluated skills for dialogue and leadership. In a follow-up study, Keen and Hall (2008) found that program graduates were more likely to be involved in community service than were individuals in a comparison group. So, overall, we see encouraging results from longitudinal studies that have evaluated community involvement as a central part of the college experience.

The longitudinal design used in the present study involved repeated observations of the same individuals over extended periods of time, something that has not often been done in this research field. The study was begun when Tulane University implemented a public service graduation requirement following Hurricane Katrina. …

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