Draft

 

The 2008 Wisconsin Service Learning Survey

 

Randy Stoecker, University of Wisconsin-Madison

rstoecker@wisc.edu

 

We sent a survey to 764 nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin to ask about their experiences with service learning.  627 groups were contacted by e-mail.  Of those groups, 125 of the addresses bounced and four  asked to be removed from the list.  166 groups were contacted by postal mail.  After one follow-up e-mail, we had 108 completed surveys, for a 16% response rate.  Such low response rates are not unusual in surveys, particularly in the nonprofit world where overwork and staff turnover makes it difficult to maintain organizational memory. 

 

It is also possible that our population is actually smaller than listed here.  The records of which organizations had hosted service learners are extremely incomplete. A number of institutions could  only provide a list of possible organization hosts and did not know how many of those had actually hosted service learners.  Two of the organizations who requested to be removed from the list were such cases.  Only a few institutions had any contact information for their organization hosts.  Consequently, we had to look up addresses for listed organization hosts, and in some cases we had to make an educated guess which office the organization listing referred to.

 

 

Table 1.  In which Wisconsin county is your local organization office?

 

Count

Percentage

[no answer]

5

4.63%

Brown

1

.93%

Dane

25

23.15%

Dunn

2

1.85%

Eau Claire

5

4.63%

Fond du Lac

4

3.7%

Kenosha

5

4.63%

La Crosse

2

1.85%

Milwaukee

45

41.67%

Multiple

2

1.85%

Portage

4

3.7%

Racine

2

1.85%

Rock

2

1.85%

St. Croix

1

.93%

Waukesha

2

1.85%

Winnebago

1

.93%

 

The distribution of responses is roughly proportional to the population receiving the survey request.  The exception is the heavy representation of Milwaukee county organizations, which may be due to not only the number of service learning placements but the development of service learning in the city,

 

Table 2.  Annual operating budget

Answer

Count

Percentage

No answer

11

10.00%

Less than $100,000 per year

17

15.74%

$100,000-$199,999 per year

14

12.9%

$200,000-$299,999 per year

7

6.48%

$300,000-$399,999 per year

5

4.63%

$400,000-$499,999 per year

6

5.56%

$500,000-$599,999 per year

2

1.85%

$600,000-$699,999 per year

4

3.7%

$700,000-$799,999 per year

4

3.7%

$800,000-$899,999 per year

0

0

$900,000-$999,999 per year

4

3.7%

$1,000,000 or more

34

32.73%

 

In compiling the population frame, we attempted to limit our focus to organizations with less than $1 million operating budgets.  It is clear from these results that we were not successful in doing that.  There are no significant differences in how organizations above and below that threshold answered the other questions, however, so we kept all the organizations in the analysis pool.

 

Table 3. Organization primary area of focus

Answer

Count

Percentage

no answer

1

0.91%

advocacy

6

5.45%

arts

3

2.73%

civic

2

1.82%

cultural

1

0.91%

education

27

24.55%

health

12

10.91%

human services

31

28.18%

Other

27

24.55%

 

Those answering “other” include five organizations that could be classified as doing advocacy work, two with an education focus, six civic organizations, one health organizations and  13 human services organizations.   We have heard complaints that advocacy organizations are excluded from access to service learning.  And while that appears to be the case here, the situation is not as stark as we would have imagined.

 

Table 4. Types of student volunteers that organizations host

Answer

Count

Percentage

Student volunteers who do not receive course credit

63

57.27%

Student service learners who are receiving course credit

87

79.09%

Students receiving internship credit for in-depth involvement with us

59

53.64%

Generally do not know whether students are receiving academic credit for their volunteer work.

12

10.91%

No answer

1

.93%

 

Organization staff were able to check more than one answer for this question.  If we look at the combinations of answers:

 

Most important is the number of groups who did not know whether their student volunteers were receiving course credit.  While this is a small proportion of the total, it is an important indicator of a lack of communication between student, faculty, and organization staff.

 

Table 5.  The most common way organizations gain access to higher education service learners

Answer

Count

Percentage

No answer

2

1.82%

The professor contacts us before the class begins to arrange the placement

26

23.64%

The student contacts us before the class begins to arrange the placement

19

17.27%

The professor contacts us after the class begins to arrange the placement

5

4.55%

The student contacts us after the class begins to arrange the placement

21

19.09%

We contact a professor or service learning office to seek service learners

19

17.27%

Other

18

16.36%

 

The answers to this question shows that, contrary to good service learning practice, only 24% of professors contact a potential host prior to the beginning of the class.  Only 28% contact the organization at all.  The students do the bulk of the communication work.  Of those answering “other”:

·        9 communicated with service learning offices

·        2 obtained students from volunteer fairs

·        2 experienced combinations of the strategies

·        1 worked with the college Chaplain

·        2 met the students in their classroom

·        1 was contacted by a college organization

·        1 recruited students through a café that the organization operates

 

Table 6.  Aspects of a service learning placement that are complete before student begins placement

Answer

Count

Percentage

No answer

3

2.78%

A written agreement covering all parties' responsibilities

59

53.64%

A work plan for the student

54

49.09%

A list of learning goals from the professor

50

46.3%

Written criteria to use in evaluating the student

27

24.55%

Other

7

6.48%

 

Of those answering “other,” it is clear that, in the absence of effective communication from the higher ed institution, they take responsibility for the service learning themselves.  Four said they provided training for the students (one of those also provides a TB test and criminal background check), one said it depends, and two interviewed the student. 

 

Here again it is clear that good service learning practice is not being followed.  Of the 108 organizations responding:

 

 

It is encouraging that the vast majority of organizations had some information in place to help them in supervising the student.  Only a bit more than half had an actual memorandum of understanding, however, again potentially showing a problem with communication between the institution and the host organization.

 

 

Table 7.  Placement length

Answer

Count

Percentage

20 hours or fewer

56

51.85%

25-40 hours

21

19.44%

45-100 hours

20

18.51%

130-200 hours

5

4.63%

400-450 hours

2

1.82%

No answer

4

3.7%

 

Contrary to the belief in some quarters, it is clear here that the most common service learning placement is the short-term placement, which is the most difficult for organizations to manage without significantly limiting their own productivity.  Truly long-term placements are very rare. 

 

 

Table 8. Amount of supervision and training provided by organization

Answer

Count

Percentage

No answer

3

2.78%

5 hours or fewer

47

43.52%

6-10 hours

15

13.89%

12-20 hours

12

11.11%

25-40 hours

12

11.11%

45-80 hours

9

8.33%

 

One way to think about this is to look at the ratio of training/supervision hours to service hours.  If we take out the two organizations receiving 400 and 450 hours of service in Table 7, the average service learner spends 38 hours in their placement.  Organizations provided an average of 16 hours of training/supervision.  But two orgs listed 100 and 120 hours of training, respectively, but only received 15 service hours.  Taking those out brings the average down to 13 hours.  On average, then, an organization invests 13 hours of supervision and training for 38 hours of service.  But for short-term service learning (20 hours or fewer), organizations are investing an average of 9.4 hours of training and supervision but getting an average of only 13.7 hours of service.  That is hardly worth it.

 

 

Table 9.  How satisfied organization staff are you with the quality of communication between the organization and the faculty in charge of the higher education service learner?

Answer

Count

Percentage

No answer

8

7.27%

very satisfied

43

39.09%

somewhat satisfied

34

30.91%

neutral

15

13.64%

somewhat dissatisfied

9

8.18%

very dissatisfied

1

0.91%

 

This table begins to get at some of the difficulties in superficial satisfaction studies that are rife in the service learning literature.  It is quite easy to read this table as showing that organization staff are relatively satisfied.  Indeed, 70% say they are satisfied.  But saying they are satisfied does not mean, as we have seen, that things are working as well as they can.  Indeed, we can also say that nearly a third of the organization staff are not impressed with the work we are doing.  That is a significant percentage.

 

Table 10:  How satisfied organization staff are you with the quality of the student service learner's performance

Answer

Count

Percentage

No answer

5

4.55%

very satisfied

49

44.55%

somewhat satisfied

44

40.00%

neutral

9

8.18%

somewhat dissatisfied

3

2.73%

very dissatisfied

0

0

Non completed

0

0

 

The results in this table are even more dramatic, though once again they point to the problem with superficial satisfaction studies.  Organizations are very pleased with the students’ performance.  What we do not know, however, is what expectations the organization staff have of students.  Our past research suggests that many organization staff see the students as there to learn rather than to serve.  Indeed, organization staff we have interviewed define service learning as the organization serving the student.  So if we asked whether the student performed significant service to the organization, we may get different results. 

Comments from organization staff. 

The survey included a comment box, and respondents from 54organizations had suggestions for changing the way that service learning operated.  This clearly shows that, while organization staff say they are satisfied with service learning, they can also imagine ways to improve the practice.  Five organization staff had only positive comments (the question asked only for suggestions for improvement).

In six cases a staff member’s comments were separated into different categories.  In one case identifiers were removed.  Otherwise, comments are presented verbatim.

 

Better communication with organizations before service learning commences

I would prefer the student brings the course material and course issues to their Service Learning experience. Many times they state they are Service Learning students, but no other information is provided. Stating I am doing this for "x class" or hope to accomplish "y goal" would significantly increase their enjoyment and satisfaction of their experience.

 

I'd like more information from the schools who place students regarding what learning experiences students wish to recieve (e.g., putting research into practice, online surveys, direct service with kids, etc.)

 

Clearly written or communicated directives regarding goals and duties should be distributed prior to students being assigned.

 

earlier contact

 

Getting information from professor sooner, being able to interview students before they begin with us.

 

Closer communication with the university offices through which students contact our office would be helpful. Knowing how the students' activities with us fit into their university studies would be useful.

 

More advance notice from faculty about service learning requirments & hours required before referring students to us

 

I would like to be of more help to the students by understanding their field of study and have that be connected to our classes. In other words, I want them and me to find a connection in the ESL classes so that they benefit from this experience.

 

A set of learning goals for the student would be helpful in assigning more meaningful work to the student and in understanding their overall expectations.

 

additional information from school faculty regarding placement, program goals/student goals, etc

 

This semester the 2nd person did not contact me until academic yr. began - this not the usual case.

 

Making it easier to access students.

More and easier access to students, greater variety of courses/fields that value student learning and understand how a social service placement could enhance the academic experience of an engineering student, for example.

 

Equality in offerings each semester. Typically, we have 25-50 higher education students engaged throughout the fall semester and then 0-5 in the spring. This creates logistical barriers for our organization and emotional stress for the students served.

 

I would like the learning/mentoring opportunities to be more formalized and ongoing. It would make sense that EVERY semester our organization identify and post opportunities, and the schools actively refer students.

 

Provide us with a list of academic areas that may have students willing to enroll in SL Program, so we could match our needs with their requirements.

 

Have a centralized system for posting service learning placements - as opposed to contacting programs / departments individually with our needs.

 

-Centralized through Service learning office -focus on benefit to non-profit organization

 

We work with three different institutions and the following types or service learners are the most valuable to us: students who are juniors and seniors (freshmen students are the least valuable because they have poor time management skills), students who complete 25 or more hours of service, and students whose professors either leave their service learning completely open-ended (they are allowed to complete their service in any way that the student & organization agree upon) or very specific (the student must complete a very particular type of project to be counted as service learning). It's best for the institution of higher learning to ask "what does your organization need" and then see if what the organization needs is a good fit for the goals of a particular class or service learning program.

 

I wish service learning institutions at Higher Ed. were more accessible to organizations looking to utilize their services.

 

Have something more formal in place and have better communication of opportunities between the college and the non profit

 

This year, we won't have a liaison between [area university] and our organization. The impact, if any, remains to be seen.

 

Find ways to match up students with agencies so both benefit. Seemingly because we are not on campus students have chosen not to come to our agency. Those students who have come for research for a paper have never sent us a copy. We think we could be useful but yet it will take our time which is valuable also.

 

Have more students/interns participate!

 

I would like more professors to require service learning for their courses, especially Spanish classes, and for more professors to recommend my organization. Currently I have no communication with any [one university’s] professors. I am very happy with the [service learning center] and [an online service]

 

Consistent placement year-to-year and better commitment from the service learning department of the university to continue placement at our site. We often have to initiate contact due to yearly director changes.

 

Better preparing students to do service learning

It would be helpful if there could be a more efficient way to get students started, since we house so many in any given semester.

 

Clearer understanding by students of their role.

 

Get more realistic about expected vs achievable outcomes, better definition of project

 

more time for training

 

Students should be taught to treat the placements seriously and try to find the relevance between their class work and service learning.

 

Students need to be motivated and take initiative.

 

Also, to make sure students understand that it is their responsibility to show initiative and commitment. The org cannot "chase" after students nor use resources for students who do not follow through. Perhaps there is a way to screen out students who really do not want to do it.

 

Less for credit and more personal motivation to serve.

 

I would want students to come prepared to share all of their interests and talents so that we can maximize their effectiveness to our organization. For example, if someone is doing their service learning for a science class but also has experience or talent in photography or advertising we could assign them a task that fits their academic priorities but also their natural abilities.

 

I would allow the student to do more on hand assignment

 

We actually do not get many students here in this capacity given our location. One of our main concerns has been the relaxed attitude that some students bring. Our interns are always highly motivated, but others are less so - sometimes a lot less especially when there really has NOT been any student choice as to whether they want to do this or not (it may appear as voluntary, but the student perception is that it was mandatory which is NOT service-learning). Of course, having been a service-learning trainer for many years, I may be a bit jaded, but am concerned that students see this as a voluntary learning expedition and not a course requirement.

 

additional training/resources for students about volunteer placements/internships with nonprofit orgs (in general);

 

Some service learners are great and others not. Our interns have the most structured time for supervision but we supervise all volunteers regardless of "service learning" status.

 

Also, the student volunteer that we had indicated to us that she would like to continue volunteering even after the class ended. based on that information, our staff spent many hours training her to help with a particular service project that the student never was able to follow through with because she did stop volunteering after the class ended.

 

A greater focus on what the student needs to get out of the service learning.

 

Better communication with faculty

Also, more regular communication from faculty to touch base on progress and quality of service.

 

I would like to see the option for an additional joint visit if the student is not doing well in placement but seems to have potential.

 

Clearer understanding of roles and expectations directly with instructor instead of service learning staff.

 

More contact with the teacher as well as the student. Generally I only see the student and the paperwork, but rarely have contact with the school itself.

 

More communication with faculty of student service learner.

 

I would like more contact with the professors so we know if we are helping the student the best way we can.

 

Sometimes we have good communication with faculty and other times not.

 

To my knowledge, we had very little or no contact with the supervising faculty. That might have been helpful in better understanding what to expect from both the student and agency perspective.

 

better communication between professor and university program coordinators and agency

 

Evaluating students

Being a part of the evaluation process on group projects

 

Students should be held responsible for their time at an organization. Schools should offer the organization the ability to grade students on their service learning.

 

If professors choose service learning as a component to their class, the grade should reflect the placement's appraisal of the performance. Right now - I feel that it is more of a check the box yes or no - did they do the service. It seems like the quality of the work isn't stressed enough.

 

faculty to solicit feedback and/or input from placement sites regarding needs, satisfaction, etc. This survey is a good start!

 

I would like a clearer understanding of the relationships/ and the evaluation process.

 

Better structuring placement hours

more communication and hours that are enough to actually have an impact on the student that is doing the service learning. Also greater interest from the students.

 

only the hours...2 hours is not enough time to know the clients in a week. I love this program and wish more professors saw the value in it for their sudnets. It can change so many different feelings and the way they see others.

 

Also - loading the service learning work in the beginning of the semester might help. I find that students lose steam on service learning goals as they near the end of the semester

 

I often get students who were placed at other sites who come to us late. They are in a scramble to get their hours in and want to get as many hours as soon as possible so they can complete their course. Our program provides small group tutoring for students who are behind. Since the [university] school year is logistically different from the [public] school year. It is difficult to have a meaningful placement when students use our site as a second choice. Although we would be happy to accommodate some students in this situation this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

 

Reducing administrative burden on organization

continuing to clarify and simplify my supervision

 

Try to alleviate administrative duties for the organization so the org can focus on just the service learning aspect.

 

The training and reporting are prohibitive to participation for us.

 

The written contracts are cumbersome and time consuming. It needs to be more flexible.

 

I think the partnership needs to be with the school and the organization.

 

Positive comments:

 

Overall, our service learners have been responsible students and our communication with the Service Learning Department (primariy at Marquette) has been excellent.

 

I am quite satisfied with the way service learning is organized at present. It is always helpful to communicate early in the semester about goals and plans.

 

I have no suggestions because this was my first experience supervising a student service learner, and

all went so smoothly.

 

There is nothing in particular that I would change.

 

I handle service learning projects through professors with whom I already have a relationship and so things go very smoothly and do not need to be managed by an outside source.