Studies have shown that service-learning has many valuable impacts on student academic and personal learning, degree completion, and civic outcomes. Now new research from the University of Georgia finds that service-learners who graduated in 2010 made an average of $4,600 more in the first year of their first full-time job if they had participated in service-learning courses while earning their degrees. When compared to those who hadn't taken service-learning courses they also received their first raises more than two-and-a-half months sooner.
I find the results of this new research surprising, because previous research shows that service-learning graduates are more likely to move into the generally lower paying "service fields" of education, nonprofit, government, healthcare and social work.
Researchers looked at 44 unique pairs of graduates, one who had taken a service-learning course and the other had not. The pairs were matched from a larger sample of nearly 2,000 graduates as closely as possible based on graduation date, major, gender, race, GPA and SAT scores.
It is not clear why this correlation exists. It could be because service-learning provides the "soft skills" employers say they want. According to Robert J. Sternberg in the Chronicle for Higher Education, employers are looking for competency in critical thinking, communication, problem solving, intercultural skills, and "applied knowledge in real world settings." Yet, a study on the impact of internships, which also provide students with hands-on experience in real-world settings, found "no significant difference between those with an internship and those without an internship receiving a job offer once those graduates who received a direct offer from the internship [were] eliminated."
We clearly still have a lot to learn about how service-learning works. Please share your ideas about this research in the comments. If you are interested in getting your research on community engagement published, or want to review the entirety of any of the articles referenced in this blog post, please contact the Center for Community Engagement.