Schulz Information Center

"Service-learning can increase retention by promoting greater engagement with the larger community, greater academic engagement, and greater interpersonal engagement."
-Gallini and Moely (2003)

SSU faculty member

Service-Learning in University Studies

Thank you for your interest in service-learning in University Studies. Historically, University Studies at SSU has included both transition and leadership classes, however, currently, we are only offering transition classes. There have been many service-learning transition classes at SSU. The CCE can help you connect with an instructor with experience with service-learning. We can also help you create or deepen your service-learning class. We provide models of other courses, sample syllabi, resources for course construction, reflective analysis tools, and risk management support. Please contact the CCE for more information. This page explores the research about how service-learning can be used in transition programs.

Transition programs have multiple goals that service-learning pedagogy addresses. According to the AAC&U, both service-learning and transition programs are high impact practices. Transition courses were early adopters of service-learning because the pedagogy provides students with an activity that connects to the other course content, provides a retention-supporting bonding experience while providing students with a sense of place.

Many students who come from a distance see no reason to become acquainted with the community of the University and service-learning can take such students out of their academic shelter and help them develop a sense of place – something that is particularly important for developing the stewardship needed to protect environmental quality (Ward 1999). Though neither civic and community engagement nor environmentalism are necessarily a specified goal of most transition programs, SSU has committed to promoting community engagement and sustainability.

First-year experience courses were introduced and designed to function as a way to increase retention beyond the first year of college (Mandel and Evans 2003). Of the often cited Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering and Gamson 1987), it has been suggested that at least six principles can be addressed by quality transition courses, namely: encouraging contact between students and faculty, developing reciprocity and cooperation among students, encouraging active learning, giving prompt feedback, emphasizing time on task, and communicating high expectations (Barefoot 2000a). Not surprisingly, many of these principles are consistent with the goals of transition courses.

Typical goals of transition programs involve integrating students into the college community by creating an environment conducive to bonding with peers to make friends, meeting faculty, and learning about what is available to them in the university. Since many students are away from home for the first time, making connections to the larger community can also be important. Still other common goals include developing both critical thinking skills and a sense of ethics or what is sometimes called value learning (McInnis 2001; Mandel and Evans 2003; Barefoot 2000b).

It is thought that by creating an environment where first-year students can feel comfortable and connected and where they are given the opportunity to better develop critical thinking skills and other higher order learning skills, they will be more likely to remain in school and will be more successful students while in school. While many formats have been explored and implemented with regards to addressing these goals, service-learning (service-learning) can be an ideal approach. Though not specifically directed at transition courses in particular, Gallini and Moely (2003) found that service-learning can increase retention by promoting greater engagement with the larger community, greater academic engagement, and greater interpersonal engagement. Others have argued that the integration of service-learning into the transition classroom can increase student learning and interest, heighten respect for diversity, and increase students' sense of social responsibility (O'Byrne and Alva 2002; Barefoot 2000b; Zlotkowski 2002).

Research on service-learning has documented the positive effects of actively engaging students by moving learning outside the classroom and into the community (McKinney et al. 2004a; Mooney and Edwards 2001). Some of the benefits of service-learning include cognitive-skills development, moral development and values formation, greater civic involvement, and a greater appreciation for diversity (Marullo 1996). Additionally, Zlotkowski (2002) argues that integrating service-learning into the transition course could potentially "fix" a problem that plagues many introductory courses, that is, the failure to generate student interest.

Forming connections to peers and faculty is seen as a crucial element for retention—especially for women, students of color, first-generation students, and students who do not otherwise fit the traditional college student description. Gardner (2002, p. 147) has suggested that service-learning experiences are ideally suited for developing community within the transition classroom by providing a set of experiences that students can share as "common" experiences. Thus, service-learning activities appear to be directly in line with the goal of connecting students to other students and the instructor. Lower level introductory courses should place more emphasis on activities that provide concrete and active experiences for students, since lower division students indicate a greater preference for these styles that upper-class students. If one of the aims of lower division classes is to interest as many students as possible, particularly women and traditionally underrepresented students…then this strategy could be beneficial toward meeting this goal (Fox et al. 1997).

Pedagogical techniques (such as service-learning) that encourage students to participate in discussions and critically assess course material seem likely to increase integration and persistence (Braxton, et al., 2000). The more time, physical energy, and psychological energy students devote to the learning process, the greater the developmental benefits they accrue. Invested, active students are more likely to flourish academically and personally and to persist toward graduation. Involvement moreover might be most advantageous toward the beginning of a student’s career (Vogelgesang, et. al, 2002). For example, Milem and Berger (1997) note that involvement during the “first six to seven weeks of a semester” is significantly related to retention. Transition courses are viewed as a prime target to initiate this kind of involvement (Colby, et al., 2003). There is evidence that service-learning increases the likelihood of persistence because it facilitates greater student involvement and interaction with peers and with faculty. As one professor remarked in an interview, “The primary difference between those who performed service and those who did not is in excitement, commitment, interest in the reading, questioning…” (Vogelgesang, et. al, 2002).

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Barefoot, B. O. (2000a). "National survey of first-year curricular practices summary of findings." Policy Center on the First Year of College. Retrieved May 5, 2005. . 2000b. "The first-year experience: are we making it any better? About Campus January-February, 12-18.

Braxton, J.M., Milem, J.F., & Sullivan, A.S. (2000). The influence of active learning on the college student departure process: Toward a revision of Tinto’s theory. Journal of Higher Education, 71, 569-590.

Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, A. F. (1987). "Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education." AAHE Bulletin 39(7), 3-7.

Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., & Beaumont, E. (2003). Educating citizens: Preparing America's undergraduates for lives of moral and civic responsibility. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fox, R.L., & Ronkowski, S.A. (1997). Learning styles of political science students. PS: Political Science & Politics, 30(4), 732-737.

Gallini, S. M. & Moely, B. E. (2003). "Service-learning and engagement, academic challenge and retention." Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 10(1), 5-14.

Gardner, J. N. (2002). "What, so what, now what: reflections, findings, conclusions, and recommendations on service-learning and the first-year experience." In E. Zlotkowski (Ed.), Service-learning and the first-year experience: Preparing students for personal success and civic responsibility (Monograph No. 34), (pp. 141-150). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Mandel, R. G. & Evans, K. (2003). "Firstchoice: Creating innovative academic options for first-year students." About Campus March-April, 23-26.

Marullo, S. (1996). "Sociology's contribution to the service learning movement." In M. G. Ender, B. M. Kowalewski, D.A. Cotter, L. Martin, and J. DeFiore (Eds.), Service-learning and undergraduate sociology: Syllabi and instructional materials (pp. 1-10). Washington: ASA Teaching Resource Center.

McKinney, K., Medvedeva, M. A., Vacca, K. & Malak, J. (2004a). "Beyond the classroom: An exploratory study of out-of-class learning in sociology." Teaching Sociology 32(1), 43-60.

McInnis, C. (2001). "Researching the first year experience: Where to from here?" Higher Education Research and Development 20(2), 105-114.

Milem, J.F., & Berger, J.B. (1997). A modified model of college student persistence: Exploring the relationship between Astin’s theory of involvement and Tinto’s theory of student departure. Journal of College Student Development 38(4), 387-399.

Mooney, L. A., & Edwards, B. (2001). "Experiential learning in sociology: Service learning and other community-based learning initiatives." Teaching Sociology 29(2), 181-194.

O'Byrne, K., & Alva, S. A. (2002). "Service-learning in a learning community: The fullerton first year." In E. Zlotkowski (Ed.), Service-learning and the first-year experience: Preparing students for personal success and civic responsibility (Monograph No. 34), (pp. 115-124). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Vogelgesang, Lori J., Ikeda, Elaine K., Gilmartin, Shannon K., & Keup, Jennifer R. (2002). "Service-Learning and the First-Year Experience: Outcomes Related to Learning and Persistence." In E. Zlotkowski (ed.), Service-Learning and the First-Year Experience: Preparing Students for Personal Success and Civic Responsibility (pp15-24). University of South Carolina: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition.

Ward, H. (1999). “Why is Service-learning So Pervasive in Environmental Studies Programs?” In Ward, H. (Ed.), Acting Locally: Concepts and Models for service-Learning in Environmental Sciences (pp.1-12). Washington, DC: AAHE.

Zlotkowski, E. 2002. "Service-learning and the introductory course: Lessons from across the disciplines." In E. Zlotkowski (Ed.), Service-learning and the first-year experience: Preparing students for personal success and civic responsibility (Monograph No. 34), (pp. 27-36). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

More coming soon!