The Service Learning Movement in Higher Education: An Academic
Response to Troubled Times*
Department of Sociology
Washington, D.C. 20057
University service learning programs are described as an academic social
movement response to severe social problems. Service learning refers to
programs in which students participate in organized service activity for
academic credit that meets identified community needs, and reflect on that
service so that it furthers their understanding of course material. The
article analyzes service learning movement frames, resource mobilization,
and the emergence of the movement. Particular programs are described to
illustrate the frames and the role of sociology is examined in the movement's
mobilization and emergence. Potential barriers and backlash are seen to
reside in various institutional and disciplinary forces. If implemented
properly, however, service learning programs should be critical of the
status quo, challenge unjust structures and oppressive institutional operations,
and provide an opportunity for institutionalizing social justice activism
on college campuses.
Service learning programs are one type of university response to the severe
social problems confronting the United States. As a post-industrial, urban
society, the increasing globalization of the economy has exacerbated the
problems of economic inequality, which we did so little to ameliorate during
times of relative economic prosperity, and has intensified the difficult
challenges of diversity. In this article, I examine service learning as
a new social movement (of sorts) that is emerging as an academic response
to these problems. I use the qualifier "of sorts" because thus far it is
a "safe" movement in that its critical, even revolutionary, potential has
not been well developed or articulated. Seen from the established status
quo, service learning is widely perceived as "charity work" or "volunteerism"
and hardly poses a threat. However, I will argue that service learning
programs, if implemented properly, should be critical of the status quo
and should ultimately challenge unjust structures and oppressive institutional
operations. In this sense, service learning provides an opportunity for
institutionalizing activism committed to social justice on college campuses.
Sociology has a crucial role to play in the development of service learning
programs. As the university "discovers" its role in addressing social problems
and teaching students how to understand them, we sociologists have to share
our expertise with our colleagues in order to educate them about the complexities
of this challenge. Our courses dealing with social problems, stratification,
inequality, urban sociology, social movements, political sociology, and
social change, to name just a few, may not only provide the core of service
learning programs, but our theory and research in these areas should be
used to educate our colleagues and contribute to the structuring of these
programs. Non-sociology faculty may quickly defer to sociology as being
a critical discipline in pioneering service learning, so we must step up
to the challenge and show that we have valuable contributions to offer.
However, we must return the challenge to our colleagues, inspiring them
to reconsider how their own disciplines can add to the students' understandings
of a complex, problem-filled reality.
Service learning is the term used to describe efforts to link community
service to the academic curriculum. It is a broad, nebulously defined term,
at times including academic endeavors such as internships, needs assessments,
and participatory action research. I will use the term more narrowly, in
the manner in which its advocates promote its use, to refer to the process
through which students participate in organized service activity for academic
credit that meets identified community needs, and reflect on that service
so that it furthers their understanding of course material (Bringle and
Hatcher 1994: 5). Furthermore, service learning activity, when done properly,
should provide students with an increased awareness of civic responsibility,
promote their moral development, and help them to analyze and explain the
causes and consequences of social problems (Honnet and Poulsen 1989, Levison
The key elements in this definition are that the students' service activities
in the community are integrated into coursework as an academic, curricular
endeavor; that the needs and attempted remedies are defined by a partnership
among university and community actors in order to benefit the less advantaged;
and that students undertake a process of observation, action, analysis,
and reflection that demonstrates educational development. Service learning
asserts that universities have a role to play in solving the problems of
the community and society around them, and that service (not just pure
research or classroom education) is an appropriate method for universities
to fulfill that obligation. From an institutional perspective, the success
of a university's service learning program is measured by effecting positive
changes in the community.
Dewey's critique of the American education system was that it did not connect
the students' learning in schools with what they did outside of school.
The university system that developed from a feudal political-economic system
had not evolved along with the industrial, and now post-industrial political
economy, thereby producing passive learners without the knowledge acquiring
skills to succeed in a modern, rapidly changing society.1 Service
learning programs attempt to address this problem by fostering active learning
in which the student's service work becomes the "clinical component of
an undergraduate liberal arts education" (Shulman 1991). It is a pedagogy
that bridges theory and practice, offering a crucible for learning that
enables students to test theories with life experiences, and forces upon
them an evaluation of their knowledge and understanding grounded in their
In service learning programs, it is not the service itself that is evaluated;
rather, it is the analytic and reflective components through which students
provide evidence of their ability to learn from their service that constitute
the basis for academic credit. By way of analogy, in natural science laboratory
exercises, we do not evaluate and reward students for the conducting of
"experiments," but instead evaluate their understanding of principles as
demonstrated in their analysis of the results. To be sure, a failed experiment
is likely to result in a poor written analysis which will be reflected
in the grade. On the other hand, merely following proper procedures to
achieve a "successful" experiment does not necessarily indicate that the
student understands the principles underlying the experimental outcome.
The student's lab report serves as the basis for evaluation, demonstrating
that the student understands both the theory and practice. Such a conceptualization
of service learning, Shulman observes, can make a public service component
a much-needed, powerful integrative force in the undergraduate curriculum
Having acknowledged this service obligation, universities must enter into
partnerships with their surrounding communities, or with communities more
broadly defined, to help identify the problems and determine methods for
addressing them. I emphasize the term partnership because it is crucial
for the community to be involved in defining the problems and priorities,
and for determining appropriate methods for intervention. Attempts to impose
solutions from the outside are doomed to have little impact in actually
solving problems. Worse yet, such efforts to impose solutions are likely
to set off greater animosity between "town and gown" and be perceived as
cultural imperialism or attempts at social control.
Service learning is distinguished from an internship program in part by
the nature of and motivation for the work done by the students. Internships
are likely to be pre-professional experiences in which students prepare
for or test out their career interests. In service learning courses, students
either provide direct services to the needy, less-privileged, oppressed,
marginalized, underrepresented, or otherwise disadvantaged; work with non-profit
organizations, community organizing, or advocacy groups on behalf of such
disadvantaged groups or communities;2 or provide support services
to such efforts through research, education, outreach, and evaluation.
Service learning is one type of experiential learning which, while producing
the same benefits of learning analytic skills such as critical thinking
and problem solving, differs in that the needs and goals of others or the
community at large help to set the priorities for what is done.
Finally, the reflection component includes the analytical work required
to connect the service with an academic understanding of the problem's
causes, operations, and consequences, and it should promote civic and moral
development. Unlike the extra-curricular activity of volunteer community
service, service learning is part of the curriculum in the sense that students,
faculty, and community partners are forced to go beyond providing a service,
but also to analyze it, reflect on it, and critically evaluate it (Moore
1990). It is this analytical component that gives service learning its
revolutionary potential because it is precisely these activities that will
reveal the systemic, social nature of inequality, injustice, and oppression.
It is also revolutionary to the extent that it creates a partnership for
change among community and university actors. Once the sources of these
problems are revealed to reside in the social and political systems that
so lavishly reward the few at the expense of the many, it becomes obvious
that such social systems require change. It is in this next step, advocating
for change and assisting students to acquire the knowledge and skills to
become agents of change, that the revolutionary potential becomes both
real and problematic. The potential becomes real through the identification
and critical examination of root causes which lead to advocacy for change.
It becomes problematic in that it can create a backlash to sustain the
status quo, with opponents targeting service learning programs. I shall
return to this promising yet undeveloped potential, and its likelihood
of generating backlash, in the section on potential barriers and in the
Before placing service learning in this larger political context, however,
I would like to discuss service learning as a social movement in terms
of its framing, resources, and emergence. In the framing section that follows,
I offer examples of specific service learning programs so that the reader
can acquire a better understanding of what is already working across the
United States. In the section on resources, I note the roles that sociologists
and sociology can play in the development of service learning. In the emergence
section, I offer a brief history of service learning at the national level.
In the final sections of the paper, I use the social movement perspective
to help us examine some of the barriers that either have emerged or are
likely to emerge, impeding further development of service learning.
In order for social movements to take off, they must capture sufficient
portions of the public's interest and resources. They do so by defining
a problem and prescribing a solution that will mobilize resources behind
its definition, inspiring adherents of their message to take action directed
toward social change. Frames are the articulation of problems by movement
actors that serve to define the social problem, explain its causes, and
present an agenda for action to solve the problem (Snow et al. 1986, Snow
and Benford 1988). The following six frames comprise the major descriptive,
prescriptive, and advocacy frames offered on behalf of service learning.
For each of the frames, I have selected a program that emphasizes that
frame and provided a brief description of some element of their program.
Adherents claim that values formation and moral development of students
is enhanced when they are forced to confront social problems (Fullinwider
1990, Kirby et al. 1991). Such moral development occurs through a series
of steps, largely following Kohlberg's model of moral reasoning (1975).
Service learning programs take adolescents who may have never been exposed
to social problems--and who may have experienced few challenges to having
their own needs and desires fulfilled--and expose them to such challenges
(Delve, Mintz, and Stewart 1990). Well structured programs provide support,
encouragement, and explanations to student volunteers, through which they
begin to identify the needs and challenges faced by others, explore various
explanations of such problems, and begin to empathize with the victims
of structured inequities. Ultimately this moral development leads to internalized
values regarding social justice (Eisenberg, Lennon, and Roth 1983; Keen
1990; Stanley 1993).
Two long-standing programs that epitomize this approach to service learning
are the University of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns and Boston
College's PULSE program. In 1983, the Center for Social Concerns grew out
of Notre Dame's Center for Experiential Learning, the Institute for Pastoral
and Social Ministries, and the Volunteer Service Office, and has provided
"educational experiences in social concerns inspired by Gospel values and
Catholic social teachings. Central to this process is enhancing the spiritual
and intellectual awareness of students, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae about
today's complex social realities, calling us all to service and action
for a more just and humane world" (Center for Social Concerns 1994:1).
The Center sponsors programs and events designed to raise student's social
awareness of the poor, oppressed, or those suffering other types of injustice,
and to model efforts to confront their needs. It also helps to coordinate
and encourage the faculty in teaching service learning courses throughout
the curriculum which place students in the community to respond to immediate
needs and/or promote long term social transformation (Center for Social
Concerns 1994: 14-15).
The PULSE program at Boston College is housed within the Philosophy and
Theology Departments and fulfills the core requirements in these two disciplines
for roughly 200 students per year. For the past 25 years, students have
engaged in roughly four hours per week of community service which is then
incorporated into coursework through writing assignments, journals, and
classroom discussions. Students are enabled to integrate the big questions
posed by classical philosophers and theologians into their own lives, becoming
contemplatives in action. They are forced to do a values clarification,
deciding for themselves what is most important and how their own talents
and abilities can be best used in service to others (Byrne 1990: 83). Although
universities with a religious tradition may be better suited to promote
this values education frame, public universities can make similar claims
in terms of preparing citizens to contribute to the public good, as we
note for the Rutgers University Citizenship and Service Education program
Cognitive skills development
Service learning advocates claim that several cognitive skills, such as
critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and conflict resolution
are learned better through real life experiences rather than simply reading
about them or simulating them in the classroom. The argument is based on
evidence from experiential learning that finds greater cognitive skills
development when these programs are compared to traditional classroom learning
(Fullinwider 1990, Stanton 1990). Critical thinking skills are enhanced
because students are forced to confront simplistic and individualistic
explanations of social problems with the complex realities they see in
their volunteer work. Readings, class discussions, faculty-student dialogue
and community partner-student interactions force them to see institutional
and structural factors contributing to the problems they see.
As they begin to try to help the clients they are serving, students invariably
confront problems and constraints. Often these are due to bureaucratic
regulations, limited resources, or disempowering situational contexts;
conditions that are likely to be less familiar to college students. These
real world problems and constraints help students to develop their problem
solving skills as well as acquiring a greater understanding of how social
forces influence individuals behavior.
Students' conflict resolution skills are developed because the situations
in which they operate are rife with conflict. Social welfare bureaucracies
and nonprofit service agencies never have sufficient resources to address
the needs confronting them, which leads to conflicting interests and demands
between and among staff and clients. Students empathize with their clients
and possibly become agents on their behalf. Students then face the challenge
of resolving such conflicts and develop methods to do so.
At Stanford University, the Haas Center for Public Service coordinates
and promotes the university's efforts related to students' voluntary service
work; coordinates service learning activities; administers government internship
programs; and operates students' service fellowship programs. A multi-million
dollar gift from the Haas family in 1989 enabled Stanford to build a large
center to administer the many service related programs already in place
at Stanford as well as to endow a Professorship in Public Service. In its
mission statement, the first goal of the Haas Center for Public Service
is to "provide opportunities for Stanford students to expand their understanding
of social issues and develop the knowledge, skills, and commitment requisite
for effective participation in public and community service" (Haas Center
1993:1). A student leadership organization, Learning by INtegrating Curriculum
and Service, (LINCS), formed in order to promote service learning on campus
and develop an ethos of serious commitment to service grounded in community
based problem solving (Haas Center 1993:19, 21). Roughly 40 service organizations
take over 2500 Stanford students into the community each year to address
real needs of the residents and in the process acquire problem solving,
critical thinking, and conflict resolutions skills (Haas Center 1993:2,
Conceptual and theoretical understanding
Another set of service learning claims is that theories and concepts about
social interactions, human relationships, and institutional operations
are understood better when they are observed firsthand (Chesler 1993, Miller
1994). In contrast to the natural sciences, the social sciences and humanities
have no formal educational methodology for applying their claims or findings
to "real life" circumstances. The laboratory for applying, testing, and
evaluating claims about human nature and social relations is the larger
society. Service learning assignments enable students to take the claims
they learn in their liberal arts courses and test them against the reality
they observe in their service site. This experience not only enables them
to understand better the material they are learning, but also helps them
to place their own life experience in a broader context by providing a
comparative base of a different reality. Especially for the typically more
affluent students at a private liberal arts college, but also for university
students in general, exposure to the living conditions of the poor is a
very educational experience.3
The Civic Education and Community Service Program at Rutgers University
operates to coordinate students' community service activities. It sponsors
a service learning program, Citizenship and Service Education (CASE), that
has a special focus on citizenship. CASE service learning courses typically
require 40 hours per semester of students' community service work, transforming
a three credit hour course into a four credit hour course. Many faculty
members are recruited into the CASE program through a competitive curriculum
development program which selects among faculty proposals to transform
already existing courses or create new courses that will integrate students'
community service. In calling for such proposals, CASE director Michael
Shafer challenges faculty colleagues to consider transforming their courses
into a CASE course for the following reason:
First, CASE adds a critical active-learning dimension to a course. CASE
placements are, in effect, field work placements, and offer the same benefits.
Furthermore, we all know that students who are forced to use what they
are learning learn it better and retain it longer (Shafer 1994).
As the faculty director of the CASE service learning program, his "sales
pitch" to his colleagues is that, simply stated, students learn the course
content better by undertaking active learning rather than passive learning
found in a lecture class.
Most educational institutions have made a commitment to educating about
and for a culturally diverse society and world. Service learning advocates
claim that differences among people, across class, race, ethnicity, gender,
age, sexual preference, religion, and other social criteria are better
understood and appreciated when introduced within the supportive context
of service learning programs (Berry 1990, Permaul 1993). Like most Americans,
college students grow up in fairly homogeneous neighborhoods--typically
segregated by race with little class variation. Service learning experiences
are likely to expose students to a wide range of class, race and ethnic,
and other social statuses with whom they have had little previous contact.
Working toward a common goal is the best way to create mutually respectful
and egalitarian views (Barber 1991). Furthermore, most college students
are still experiencing the challenge of discovering and defining their
own identity, so exposure to different types of people helps in this identity
formation as well as to teach respect for others. From the university's
point of view, having students and faculty working with community partners
is an effective mechanism for minimizing the town-gown split and creating
friends in the community.
The core curriculum at Lafayette College contains first year interdisciplinary
seminars designed to promote students' understanding of community and diversity.
One of these seminars is "Challenging Differences: Building Community in
a Diverse Society," which requires students to undertake two hours per
week of community service. Although all of the first year seminars are
designed to challenge stereotypes and promote intellectual community building,
the service learning seminar provides students with the real opportunity
and challenge to do so (Cha, Rothman, and Smith 1994: 47-48).
An individual's obligation to the community and to the nation is learned
by working for and with others toward a collective good. Proponents of
explicit civic education see service learning as a vehicle for teaching
the skills and perspectives needed for a responsible citizenry in a democracy
(Newmann 1990, O'Neil 1990). According to Barber, service learning fulfills
these needs by promoting collective activity that is empowering. Students
must work in groups or teams to achieve their goals, and they must have
some input into the decision-making about what is to be done (Barber 1991).
Furthermore, such activity cannot be defined or set up as altruism or charity
work, but rather it should be conceived as promoting the greater public
interest (Barber 1991:51). This means that the students are serving a greater
public good that is also their own, rather than serving merely their own
or another's interests.
Public universities are more likely to rely on the goal of citizenship
development as their rationale for promoting service learning--it is their
obligation to produce committed and active citizens in exchange for the
support they receive from the public treasuries. The CASE program at Rutgers,
noted above, explicitly defines its mission as citizenship development,
to counteract the students' "selfish pursuit of their own narrow self-interest
and their disengagement from the community" (Shafer 1994:1). The University
of Pennsylvania's WEPIC program (West Philadelphia Improvement Corps) is
a university-community partnership program built around the schools in
West Philadelphia. Students at the university work with community organizations
on service, education, health care, and development projects based in the
schools. The fiber of the community is strengthened by such associations
and the university students learn the skills needed to be effective community
members (WEPIC 1994:2). Such efforts are not entirely altruistic, as University
Vice President for Community Affairs Ira Harkavy is quick to point out,
because West Philadelphia is the neighborhood in which the university is
located. In addition to being a good neighbor, the university is also protecting
its interests by helping maintain the surrounding neighborhood and making
the university an attractive place in which students will want to matriculate.
Universities have asserted their unique role in providing service to the
community through utilizing their ability to create new knowledge and in
training the future leaders of communities and the nation. Service learning
is an extension of the university's service commitment in two ways: it
provides services directly to those who are most in need, and it evaluates
and assesses the efficacy of service delivery alternatives. The university
as a corporate entity, in exchange for the benefits it receives from the
community, should provide tangible services that it is especially well
qualified to offer.4 This can include mobilizing intellectual
or knowledge based resources, skilled professionals, and their students
in the process of delivering services. Further, the ability to assess and
evaluate how effectively the services are being provided is a specialized
service that the university can offer. However, a lesson that participatory
action researchers have learned must be kept in mind here--namely, that
the community partner must play a role in the evaluation process and their
perspective needs a voice in validating the results of such research.
The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis mission statement
explicitly acknowledges its service obligation to the the community:
IUPUI seeks to develop and apply knowledge to ever-changing issues of health,
economic and social well-being through teaching, research, and service.
IUPUI seeks to serve as a model for collaboration and interdisciplinary
work through partnerships among Indiana University and Purdue University
and the community... (Center for Public Service 1993:1)
IUPUI's recently created Center for Public Service embodies this commitment
by combining the university's service activities under one structure and
bringing to these activities a curriculum component needed to maintain
the quality of the service work and a faculty commitment needed to anchor
the partnership. The Center describes itself as combining Purdue University's
land grant tradition and Indiana University's professional service orientation.
Practice based education in health, education, law, journalism, engineering,
business, and other professions provide the model through which students'
education takes them into the community to provide direct services while
learning their profession. This model is extended to the undergraduate
arts and science curriculum by students engaging in service learning through
applied research, practica, and internships (Center for Public Service
At Georgetown University, the Jesuit tradition and mission statement provide
the most direct call for the university to engage in service for the sake
of helping those in greatest need and as a means to social justice. One
of the Jesuit callings summarizes this mission concisely as "producing
men and women for others." As the recent 34th General Congregation of the
Society of Jesus makes clear, each Jesuit university should promote justice
in one or more of the following ways: a) direct service and accompaniment
of the poor; b) developing awareness of the demands of justice and the
social responsibility to achieve it; and c) participating in social mobilization
for the creation of a more just social order (General Congregation 1995:7).
In addition to developing intensive service learning courses, typically
requiring 100 or more hours per semester of student's community service,
Georgetown utilizes a Fourth Credit Option that can be attached to nearly
any course (with the consent of the professor), that requires a 40 hour
per semester service commitment. A Volunteer and Public Service Center
helps administer the field placements by maintaining community contacts
and arranging transportation. Faculty members are encouraged and supported
to integrate service learning into their courses by attending a week-long
curriculum development workshop in the summer.
As the previous examples illustrate, service learning programs require
resources to grow. The social movements literature informs us that these
resources can be internal, controlled by the university itself, or external
resources that are cooptable toward movement ends. In this section, I note
where sociology can be particularly helpful in supporting service learning.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but suggestive of the most likely
sources of support for service learning.
Free space: Universities can provide the context for free spaces
to emerge, which encourage creative thinking and innovative actions (Evans
and Boyte 1986). Such spaces are supported by a subculture of tolerance
and values of academic freedom. Various service learning initiatives can
be developed, tested, and modified within a supportive environment. The
values of the larger society, stressing short term profits, "bottom lines,"
and detailed accountability of time are not strong elements of the university's
operating ethos. Much as the campuses played a critical role of the social
movement cycles of the 1960s (Tarrow 1994), they retain this potential
for development of service learning programs in the 1990s.5
Students: Students' energy, time, enthusiasm, and experience are
a readily cooptable resource. A large number of students enter college
having done volunteer work in high school and many continue volunteering
as an extra curricular activity. This ongoing engagement of a good number
of students in community service generates demand and support for service
learning programs. Students believe that their community service not only
accomplishes good in the community, but also that such experiences make
them feel good about themselves, look good on their resume, and that graduate
programs and employers value such activities. Service learning programs
should be designed to tap students' interests and meet their needs, including
development of career and vocational opportunities for service.
Faculty: Faculty are a potentially powerful and necessary resource
required for implementing service learning programs. Their skills, knowledge,
autonomy, and time flexibility enable them to provide support for and adopt
service learning pedagogies in their courses. Many participate in community
service, so service learning is an extension of their own identity. It
also provides them with the opportunity to integrate and consolidate some
of their activities. Service learning enables the faculty to fulfill what
may be defined to themselves as a personal commitment to their own communities
by integrating it with their professional life. In the process, it also
fulfills the lesser third of their professional obligations (after teaching
and scholarship) to do service. Further, if service learning sites can
also serve as the location for undertaking research--whether it be evaluation
research on programs, or ethnographic or field studies of human interaction--then
faculty members can fulfill all of their professional responsibilities
through service learning.
Because of the nature of our discipline, sociologists are particularly
well-suited to see the value of service learning. Dating back to the earliest
Chicago School studies, the city and the community have served as the laboratory
for our research. For as long as there has been a discipline, sociology
faculty have sent students into the field to do ethnographies and participant
research, so the service learning pedagogical claim that "the real world
is a crucible to test our theories" is second-nature to us. Evaluation
studies, community power studies, organizational studies, and studies of
social movements and community organizing--with their large bodies of knowledge
and longstanding research traditions--can be carried over directly to service
Volunteer centers: Many universities and communities have volunteer
coordination centers. In some instances, volunteer activities are coordinated
through the university chaplain's office. These offices provide the knowledge
of and contact with community organizations that can serve as service learning
sites. However, it is important that service learning programs be housed
in academic units and have academically credentialed directors to ensure
academic integrity and legitimacy.
University development and public relations offices: Service learning
activities can be the source of additional fundraising for the university,
used to acquire new administrative positions, student support, or academic/research
positions. Development officials can be coopted to assist in grant writing
and fundraising that will be used to develop service learning. Segments
of the university's alumni may be especially responsive to fundraising
appeals or capital campaign initiatives to raise funds for the university's
service to the community. Public relations officials can see the potential
for the university to gain symbolic rewards and perhaps political favors
from the community in exchange for its "good works."
Faculty and curriculum development: Pockets of money and faculty
release time are typically budgeted to support faculty research and development,
to create new courses, or to undertake curriculum reform. These can be
used to develop service learning initiatives. At Georgetown University,
we have organized an annual curriculum development workshop for faculty
members in which they commit to develop service learning exercises, courses,
or programs.6 Through the workshop, outside experts are brought
in to advise the faculty on how they can implement service learning programs,
offer models, and share experiences. Faculty are introduced to community,
university, and student resources available to assist them in implementing
their service learning courses.7
Community members: Service learning programs depend on the time,
energy, knowledge, and material support of community leaders in order to
maintain the sites in which they operate. In addition to these resources
directly supporting service learning, community leaders can also apply
indirect pressures and incentives to encourage universities' involvement.
Universities are susceptible to public opinion pressures because they wish
to be seen as responsible "citizens" in the community. Furthermore, they
often need political support from local, state, or national legislatures
to undertake or implement their other initiatives; for example, seeking
favorable zoning rulings for new construction, public financing for building,
and funding for students' financial aid. As a result, community and political
leaders can be encouraged to exert pressures on the university to be a
"good neighbor" and give back to the community.
Professional educational associations: A number of professional
education associations have been promoting service learning by offering
educational workshops and conferences, developing materials and doing advocacy
work regarding service learning. Foremost among these is Campus Compact,
a consortium of over 500 institutions of higher education organized to
promote and support national and community service activities among its
members and to recruit additional members (Cha, Rothman and Smith 1994).
Other organizations have also devoted considerable resources to promoting
service learning, including the American Association for Higher Education,
the National Society for Experiential Education, the American Association
of University Professors, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities,
and the National Association of Student Program Administrators. The Campus
Opportunity Outreach League (COOL) and the U.S. Students Association promote
service learning among university student organizations. The "Invisible
College"--a project of the Campus Compact and the Education Commission
for the States--provides a support and advocacy network among university
faculty engaged in service learning.
Professional associations such as the American Sociological Association,
the American Political Science Association, and the Modern Language Association
have provided more discipline specific support. In sociology, for example,
the ASA and the regional associations have provided free spaces for the
emergence and development of service learning pedagogy. At national and
regional meetings, paper presentations, roundtables, and entire sessions
have been devoted to service learning. These forums provide the presenter
with legitimacy for their academic work and a means of networking with
similarly interested colleagues on other campuses. In addition, the ASA's
Teaching Resources Center is assembling a "Resources Guide" on service
learning and has been a longtime organizational affiliate of the National
Society for Experiential Education. The ASA's journal, Teaching Sociology,
has published a few articles in which the authors have discussed service
learning pedagogy (Cohen 1995, Hondagneu-Sotelo and Raskoff 1994, and Porter
and Schwartz 1993). Although these represent quite modest changes, they
are the necessary first steps toward larger disciplinary change.
Local, state and federal government agencies: From city hall officials
to the federal Corporation on National and Community Service, government
agencies are looking to support community service. For some, it is merely
a way to stretch their limited resources through the use of volunteers.
Others, however, are supportive and committed to the principles of service
learning, including the Americorps and Serve and Learn programs, the Department
of Education literacy program, and the state education departments in Minnesota
and New Jersey.
Foundations and private donors: Several national foundations (e.g.
Pew, Rockefeller, Lilly) as well as smaller community-based foundations
are looking to support innovative service learning projects. They provide
grants for funding start up costs, faculty development and curriculum review.
Previously noted was Stanford University's Haas Center for Public Service,
which, through the gift of the Haas family, transformed a number of good
programs into arguably the premiere public service and service learning
program in the nation. Even more dramatically, however, is the phenomenal
growth over the last three years of Providence College's Feinstein Institute
for Public Service. With the assistance of a $6 million gift from the Feinstein
Foundation, Providence College has transformed a fairly small, campus-ministry
run community service program into a sizable academic service learning
program that now supports a major and minor in community service and dozens
of students' community service programs (Feinstein Institute, 1994). Nationally,
General Motors, Tylenol, J.W. Saxe, and the Swearer Foundation have created
service awards and scholarship programs to honor students for their leadership
in community service.
A substantial portion of the growth in service learning can be attributed
to the promotional and support activities of the Campus Compact. This organization
was formed in 1985 by the presidents of Brown, Georgetown, and Stanford
Universities and now includes more than 500 institutional members. Membership
commitments are made by university presidents and require substantial fees
(to support the national office), which ensure an active commitment from
the top at member institutions. Campus Compact has provided start-up support
and funding for 16 state Compact offices and three regional Mentoring Resources
Centers (Cha, Rothman and Smith 1994:10-11). Over the past five years,
the national Campus Compact has sponsored week-long workshops on integrating
community service into the curriculum in which 75 universities have participated,
during which they devised strategic plans for changing their institutions.
In addition, they have raised over $1 million in grants which they have
passed on to 168 member institutions to institutionalize service learning.
A number of other national organizations have supported the growth of service
learning as well, as noted above. One of these is the Corporation for National
Service's program, Learn and Serve America. It's goals are (1) to promote
service learning programs in higher education that "meet unmet community
needs, while enhancing [students'] academic study, civic skills, and sense
of social responsibility, and (2) to build capacity and infrastructure
within and across institutions of higher education, in partnership with
community agencies" (Corporation for National Service 1994:4). In fiscal
year 1994, Learn and Serve America awarded $9 million in grants to 116
programs. Their explicit intention is to fund programs that will be sustainable
after the initial awards run out after 2-3 years and that will provide
support or additional leverage to generate further program development
in the future (Corporation for National Service 1994:4).
Of course, these national organizations did not create the concept of service
learning or invent service learning programs in universities. Service learning
programs, although not always called by that name, have been promoted by
NSEE since its founding in 1971 as the National Center for Public Service
Internship Programs. Many universities around the nation have had community
service offices operating for more than twenty years, during which time
they have occasionally integrated service activities into particular courses.
This is typical for social movements in the sense that they are not created
of whole cloth, but rather emerge from efforts underway and are energized
by some event that provides a spark and gives them impetus in a particular
direction. The legislative debate over mandatory national service during
the mid-1980s contributed to the interest in community service (Gorham
1992, Moskos 1988). President Bush's conceptualization of addressing social
problems through "points of light" programs which were voluntary, largely
non-governmental, and oriented toward direct services crystallized the
resurgence in community service and was enacted into law in the 1990 National
and Community Service Act. President Clinton added his own spin to the
Bush legacy when, in 1993 the legislation he sponsored led to the creation
of 20,000 AmeriCorps positions and a dramatic expansion of the Learn and
Serve America programs in higher education. However, as is the case with
social movements, the attention cycle of the media, the public at large,
and the funders is quite limited (Hilgartner and Bosk 1988). Given the
conservative, budget-cutting bent of the 104th congress and their initial
attempts to decimate the AmeriCorps program, it is quite likely that the
movement has already reached a turning point in the level of support it
is likely to attain from public sources.
There are a number of potential constraints and barriers that might limit
the growth of the service learning movement. Mobilizing sufficient resources
is one of the more obvious potential constraints, but this can be overcome
as enthusiastic adherents and supporters focus their energies and resources
toward building a service learning program. There are, however, several
other potential barriers that should be considered.
University and departmental politics
Trying to change the curriculum necessarily requires changing the distribution
of resources within the university. Potential resource losers will resist
change, regardless of the merits of the initiative. Tactically, this suggests
the wisdom in recruiting as broad a base of support as possible in creating
service learning programs, cutting across departmental and program boundaries,
to defuse potential bloc opposition. Apart from the resource issue, some
colleagues will be skeptical of service learning, equating it with students'
independent community service, and opposing the "granting of credit for
extra curricular activities." Peer education is needed to distinguish service
learning from community service and to promote widespread development of
appropriate service learning opportunities across the curriculum.
A critical question for faculty members considering adopting service learning
pedagogy is how it will be evaluated by the university. Presently, service
is the least significant component in the tenure and promotion processes.
It is necessary for university officials, rank and tenure committees, and
departmental guidelines to specify how service learning efforts will be
considered in the review processes. Although service learning has the potential
for enabling greater faculty integration of teaching, research and service,
this will not always be possible and, at best, is likely to require years
to establish. Developing a portfolio system to document the teaching and
learning objectives of service learning courses might be an effective method
for documenting the enriched teaching outcomes.
Parallel to institutional rewards, it is necessary for the disciplines
to find ways to grant symbolic and actual rewards for service learning
activities. We can see this process beginning in some disciplines, as their
professional associations provide space at meetings and in journals for
presentations and articles based on service learning teaching and research.
The Campus Compact's "Invisible College" is designed to offer professional
development support for its members, paralleling more traditional discipline
paths. The Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning was created
to provide a peer-reviewed forum for publishing articles on service learning
research and pedagogy. Receiving grants for developing service learning
programs and/or community based participatory research should be evaluated
positively by both institutional and disciplinary reward systems.
Institutional backlash and community skepticism
If the service learning program is effective in creating students who think
critically and who are empowered to act as agents of change, they are bound
to upset those who benefit from the status quo. Whether they become advocates
for the poor who confront unjust institutional practices, profit maximizing
corporations or landlords, or disaffected bureaucrats and policy makers,
these establishment targets will mobilize against such efforts for change
if they begin to feel threatened. Other faculty or administrators, anticipating
such confrontations, may attempt to undermine service learning programs
in order to prevent such challenges and/or responses. From the point of
view of the community, there is likely to be skepticism about the commitment
of the university as it reaches out to become its partner. Such skepticism
may be based on past experiences of the university's indifference (or worse)
toward the community or simply a perception of the university as part of
the "enemy" camp. Service learning advocates will understand that these
two types of societal pressures will always be in opposition to each other:
the more effective the program is in serving the social justice interests
of the disadvantaged, the more opposition it is likely to generate from
the elite actors of the current system.
Long Term Commitment
The principles outlined above indicate that a long term commitment on the
part of faculty is required. There will have to be support mechanisms developed
to provide education, nurturance, and relief for fulfilling these commitments.
Overcoming the barriers enumerated above is nothing short of revolutionary
change in academia. Anything but a long term perspective on achieving institutional,
even societal change, is likely to lead to frustration and burnout.
I believe this analysis of service learning as a social movement reveals
its potential as a revolutionary force, not only in academia but for the
society at large. Service learning programs will fundamentally alter the
university-community relationship. No longer will the university be seen
as sitting atop the hill, with its ivy-covered walls separating its members
from the larger community. Instead, the university will be seen as a partner,
committed to the well-being of its surrounding neighbors and the larger
community. It will also be revolutionary internally for the university's
operations, as pedagogy, curriculum, rank and tenure procedures, and resource
allocations are fundamentally changed. Faculty life has the potential for
fundamental change as well, as service learning may enable individual faculty
members to fully integrate their research, teaching and service commitments
and link them to their immediate community.
Even larger than this is the revolutionary potential of service learning
as a means of educating our youth in preparation for how they will interact
with the larger society. This potential goes beyond the mere provision
of services by young, talented, and energetic college students to communities
that need them desperately. Rather, it is in the critical thinking skills
that they will acquire as they are forced to confront the question of why
these problems persist. It is in the empowerment they will acquire as they
learn how to challenge dysfunctional institutional operations. It is in
the lifelong commitments that they will be creating for themselves to be
engaged civic actors. And finally, this revolutionary potential resides
in the discrediting of the political economy that results from students
discovering that it is the overt operations of market forces, aided by
the political-economic system designed to generate inequality, that is
responsible for the misery they see. All this revolutionary potential can
only be realized, however, if we establish service learning programs that
are truly challenging of the status quo and to which we are sufficiently
committed to overcoming potential barriers.
* The author would like to thank the following for their helpful
comments and suggestions on this article: Christopher Koliba, Patricia
O'Connor, Penny Rue, Keith Morton, Lee Williams, and Randy Stoecker.
1. For historical summary and applications, see Dewey (1915), Benson and
Harkavy (1991), Taylor (1992), and Boyer (1990).
2. This includes efforts toward challenging or changing existing social
structures to the ultimate benefit of a disadvantaged group.
3. It also poses a new challenge, to move the student beyond the initial
shock, anger, and guilt reactions they are likely to experience in observing
such desperate conditions, and to move them to a point where they believe
they can become agents of change.
4. As a result of their nonprofit status, universities pay lower or no
property and sales taxes, receive tax support directly and indirectly through
federal, state and locally funded programs, and are subsidized through
federal and state tuition assistance programs.
5. Larger structural differences of the 1990s versus the 1960s mitigate
against this free space potential in that students are receiving less financial
aid and are more likely to be working more hours, universities are receiving
less financial support from the federal government, and they have been
undergoing "restructuring" to reduce internal overhead which could serve
as cooptable resources for service learning movement mobilization.
6. The faculty are awarded stipends to attend and must apply through a
loosely competitive process. Funding is provided by several academic deans,
the university president and vice president's offices, the dean of students,
and the chaplain's office. This program is described in Donahue, Marullo,
O'Connor, and Rue (1995). Also see Stanton (1994) and Fischer (1993).
7. Similar to "writing-across-the-curriculum" efforts, service learning
courses can be developed across the curriculum, including the university's
core curriculum courses. Given our context, we believe that this "infiltration
from the grassroots" approach is a more effective curriculum reform strategy
than directly challenging the composition of the core curriculum.
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