Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Pathways to Adult Civic Engagement: Benefits of Reflection and Dialogue across Difference in Higher Education Service-Learning Programs

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Pathways to Adult Civic Engagement: Benefits of Reflection and Dialogue across Difference in Higher Education Service-Learning Programs

Article excerpt

The current study explores the relationship between participation in college service-learning (SL) experiences, in both academic courses and co-curricular programs, and post-college civic engagement. Using data from a purposeful sample of 1,066 alumni from 30 campuses who participated in the 20th Anniversary Bonner Scholars Study, we explored the extent to which SL experiences during the college years were related to civic outcomes post-graduation, particularly in terms of civic-minded orientations, volunteering, and civic action. When evaluating various attributes of SL programs (e.g., curricular, co-curricular programming, types of reflection, dialogue across difference, interactions with others), two components were particularly salient. Dialogue with others across difference was the strongest predictor of cultivating civic outcomes after college. In addition, both structured and informal reflection independently contributed to civic outcomes (i.e., civic-mindedness, voluntary action, civic action). The results suggested the Pathways to Adult Civic Engagement (PACE) model, which can be used to examine SL programming in higher education and to guide future research to understand how variations in SL program attributes influence civic outcomes years after graduation.

The well-being of American democracy is dependent upon the active participation of its citizens and professionals in both political and community life. This voluntary impulse for engagement is shaped, in part, by traditions learned in families, clubs, religious organizations, and schools (Daloz, Keen, Keen, & Parks, 1996; Wilson, 2000). Each of these social organizations is vital to cultivating civic commitments (Kim, Flanagan, & Pykett, 2015). Higher education has a unique responsibility to prepare graduates with the necessary disciplinary knowledge for their careers as well as with the skills and dispositions to be active citizens through both their personal and professional lives (Sullivan & Rosen, 2008). The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (2012) and the Association of American Colleges & Universities (Reich, 2014) recently reiterated to institutions of higher education that their mission should focus on civic engagement.

Research suggests that the college years are indeed a crucial period in the development of civic identity and engagement (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003; Kneflekamp, 2008; Mitchell, Richard, Battistoni, Rost-Banik, Netz, & Zakoske, 2015). Civic outcomes for college students include a wide and complex range of dimensions, including civic knowledge, skills, dispositions, and behaviors related to civic identity, sense of social responsibility, and intentions to participate in politics as well as community engagement and voluntary action (Beaumont, 2012; Hatcher, 2011; Hatcher, Bringle, & Hahn, 2016). Understanding the conditions under which higher education institutions are best able to support civic outcomes among graduates would enrich student learning, help college administrators enact coordinated and impactful academic and co-curricular service-learning (SL) programs, and support the engagement of alumni in the public sphere.

SL, defined broadly as a course-based activity or as a co-curricular program (Jacoby, 2015), is on the rise in American higher education. Concomitantly, research on SL is increasingly prevalent. There have been a number of critiques regarding the quality of SL research in higher education (Butin, 2013; Finley, 2011; Giles & Eyler, 2013). The research on SL often is focused on one course or one program and rarely uses multi-campus sampling strategies. Oftentimes, the research fails to identify clearly the various dimensions of the SL course design (Finley, 2011), thus attributing the outcomes to SL rather than to the specific characteristics of, or variations within, the SL experience itself (Giles & Eyler, 2013). …

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