Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Closing the Gap: Can Service-Learning Enhance Retention, Graduation, and GPAs of Students of Color?

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Closing the Gap: Can Service-Learning Enhance Retention, Graduation, and GPAs of Students of Color?

Article excerpt

The education system is responsible for the choices and chances provided to the students it serves. Although racial disparities continue to impede some students' chance of success in education, service-learning in the classroom context may be the transformative strategy needed to make institutions of higher education the "great equalizers" they ostensibly aspire to be. Using data from an urban, public, Research I institution located in the Midwest region of the United States, this study assessed the use of service-learning in two general education courses as a strategy to increase retention and graduation rates at the institution. Service-learning was found to have a significant effect on student retention, grade point average, and graduation. Students who took either course performed better than their counterparts without service-learning experiences.

Today, a high school diploma does not offer the same promise of social mobility and stability that it once did. As an academic credential, the college degree has taken its place as a de facto requirement for a middle class lifestyle. As a public good, higher education contributes to society by educating citizens, improving human capital, encouraging civic engagement, and boosting economic development (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009). Because student populations are increasingly diverse in numerous ways--race and ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, educational preparation, and intellectual abilities--the teaching and learning process is concomitantly more complex (Altbach et al.). A diverse student population requires a diverse curriculum to make higher education accessible and to allow students to be successful within the institution. Many colleges and universities face the challenge of meeting the needs of all its students since retaining and graduating students, especially students of color, remains a growing problem. Nationally, the six-year completion rate for Black undergraduate students is 20% less than their White counterparts (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2014). Graduation for all student groups should be the primary goal of colleges and universities. Supporting a diverse student body is motivation to be innovative and creative about approaches to accomplish this goal. Accordingly, pedagogical strategies must be explored since research shows that classroom teaching has an effect on student engagement in the classroom (Kuh, 2008; Tinto, 1982, 2003, 2006, 2012). Service-learning, co-curricular service activities, and community-based research are a few of the pedagogical approaches through which post-secondary institutions may attempt to accomplish their institutional goals.

Retaining and graduating students of color is a problem endemic to higher education across the United States. Race has a legacy in American society that is fundamental to the social order. It has been and continues to be an organizing element that describes, prescribes, and dictates access and opportunity--including educational opportunity. By failing to see the reproduction of racial stratification, solutions to solve the achievement gap problem focus only on student-related interventions and not pedagogical ones that are within an institution's control. That is, rather than asking what post-secondary institutions can do differently to improve retention and graduation rates, they prescribe what students should do differently. Since schools do not exist as independent social institutions separate from economic, political, cultural, and social contexts, they can neither be insulated from the challenges that each context provides (Carter & Welner, 2013) nor can they remain blind to the solutions needed. Although prejudice, discrimination, and disadvantage did not begin within the university, nevertheless the university is obligated to address these issues since they impede progress and success for achieving institutional outcomes (Altbach et al., 2009). …

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