Civic Engagement Among Community College Students Through Service Learning

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This article was downloaded by: ["University at Buffalo Libraries"]On: 07 October 2014, At: 07:03Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UKCommunity College Journal ofResearch and PracticePublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information: Engagement AmongCommunity College StudentsThrough Service LearningMary Prentice aa Department of Educational Management andDevelopment , New Mexico State University , LasCruces, New Mexico, USAPublished online: 20 Sep 2011.To cite this article: Mary Prentice (2011) Civic Engagement Among CommunityCollege Students Through Service Learning, Community College Journal of Researchand Practice, 35:11, 842-854, DOI: 10.1080/10668920802205014To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all theinformation (the Content) contained in the publications on our platform.However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness,or suitability for any purpose of the Content. 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Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 ENGAGEMENT AMONG COMMUNITY COLLEGESTUDENTS THROUGH SERVICE LEARNINGMary PrenticeDepartment of Educational Management and Development,New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USAHigher education has been called upon to prepare its graduates to becivically engaged community members. Since the 1980s, faculty havetaken up this call. Service learning is a common strategy that educatorshave adopted to stimulate civic engagement in students. In this study,service learning students and nonservice learning students from eightcommunity colleges were given precourse and postcourse surveys oncivic engagement. Results revealed a statistically significant increase inservice learners civic engagement when compared to nonservice learners.The findings are consistent with other higher education studies that usean expanded definition of civic engagement.Among the many goals that have been historically ascribed to highereducation, the goal of developing civically aware and engaged gradu-ates has gained increasing support over the last two decades as rates ofcommunity participation have declined (Carnegie Foundation for theAdvancement of Teaching & Center for Information and Research onCivic Learning and Engagement [CIRCLE], 2006). Frank Newman,well known for his lifetime work on higher education reform, exempli-fied the rise in support of this goal when he stated, the most criticaldemand is to restore to higher education its original purpose of pre-paring graduates for a life of involved and committed citizenship . . . .The advancement of civic learning therefore, must become higherAddress correspondence to Mary Prentice, Educational Management and DevelopmentDepartment, MSC 3N, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003. E-mail:mprentic@nmsu.eduCommunity College Journal of Research and Practice, 35: 842854, 2011Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1066-8926 print=1521-0413 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10668920802205014842Downloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 educations most central goal (1985, p. xiv). How to go about thisrestoration, however, was unclear. At the beginning of this late 20thcentury civic engagement movement, pockets of faculty and adminis-trators began to explore possibilities for connecting students to thecommunity through academics, but the work of instilling citizenshipvalues in students was most often undertaken by student activitiesoffices, through voter registration drives, student political clubs, andvolunteer centers (Perreault, 1997). While students who engaged inthese activities were involved in aspects of the civic life of a com-munity, the number of students who were involved was limited tothose who were willing or able to give time to campus activities overand above the time they spent in class.By the end of the 1980s, the severe limitations to advancing civiclearning separately from the core work of the academy (Saltmarsh,2005, para. 3) had been noted. Faculty began to increasingly adoptnew pedagogies, such as service learning, to connect students moredirectly with textbook and classroom learning. This was happeningas research on adult learning found that many adult students learnmaterial more quickly and more thoroughly when they activelyexperience how the academic concepts apply in settings beyond thecollege classroom (Trotter, 2006). At first, though, much of the ser-vice learning work was not focused on increasing civic engagementas a direct goal of the experience. However, indicators of decreasedcommunity engagement, such as the unprecedented low 1994 votingratesthat year, only 37% of registered voters went to the polls,began to turn the concern about decreasing civic engagement levelsinto what was described as a civic crisis (Cowan, 1997). Responsesto the stated crisis included studies and reports by groups such asthe Johnson Foundations Wingspread Group on Higher Education(1993), the National Commission on Civic Renewal, the AmericanCivic Forum, and the Eisenhower Leadership Group (Patrick,2000), as well as the establishment of the Corporation for Nationaland Community Service through the National and CommunityService Trust Act of 1993 (Corporation for National Service, 1997).With the flood of information from the reports published bygroups, such as those mentioned above, who were concerned aboutthe decline in citizenship, educators began to realize that their effortsto produce engaged citizens needed to intensify. For civic education toreach more students and have greater visibility, this education neededto be integrated into academics across all disciplines and levels ofhigher education. As Saltmarsh (2005) explained, the vehicle of choicefor this integration was again the pedagogy of service learning. Servicelearning, defined here as the combination of community service andStudent Civic Engagement Through Service Learning 843Downloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 classroom instruction, with a focus on critical, reflective thinking aswell as personal and civic responsibility (Gottlieb & Robinson,2006, p. 5). This is a definition that allows faculty from anydiscipline to provide students with experiences in community agenciesthat reflect the academic content learned in classes. With the renewedfocus on higher educations responsibility to foster citizenship as wellas increase academic learning, educators began to integrate servicelearning into their courses with the dual intents to enrich students aca-demics and increase students awareness of their civic responsibility.With new studies being published on service learnings ties to civicengagement, researchers have found both support for and against theexistence of such a connection. When reviewed, the mixture of resultsseems to stem partly from the lack of a consistent definition of whatcivic engagement is. When civic engagement is defined as politicalknowledge and behavior only, researchers have not found a linkbetween service learning and the development of such engagement(Kirlin, 2002; Perry & Katula, 2001; Walker, 2000). When civicengagement is defined as both political involvement and communityinvolvement, the connection between service learning and suchengagement begins to emerge (Ahmad-Llewellyn, 2003; Campbell,2000; Delli Carpini & Keeter, 2000; Hunter & Brisbin, 2000;Nishishiba, Nelson, & Shinn, 2005; Perreault, 1997). This broaderdefinition of engagement is relatively new. One report described thisevolution, In the late 1950s and 1960s, most political scientistsemphasized election-related activities when they studied politicalparticipation. However, during the Vietnam era, scholars began toattend to a broader range of activities including protests, boycotts,and membership in social movements. Since then, Americans haveembraced even more forms of political participation such as makingpurchases or investment decisions to support social or political causes,giving money to think tanks, using affinity credit cards, communicat-ing via blogs, and wearing clothing with political messagestomention just a few examples (CIRCLE, 2006, p. 2).In addition to using an expanded definition of civic engagement, theresearch also suggests that the connection between service learningand the expanded definition of civic engagement is even more robustwhen one focus of service learning curriculum integration is specifi-cally on citizenship development instead of a more general focus onexposing the student to community issues as a vehicle for learningacademic content (Battistoni, 1997; Kahne, Westheimer, & Rogers,2000; Maybach, 1996). As Warren (1998) distinguished, servicelearning programs that provide students with exposure to communityproblems may have different learning outcomes than service learning844 M. PrenticeDownloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 programs that promote engagement with the underlying causes for thesocial problems that service learning students encounter. It thusappears that if development of student civic engagement is a courselearning outcome, then service learning may be purposely integratedinto that course as a citizenship development tool in addition to itsuse as a vehicle for course content learning.With the use of service learning to increase students civic engage-ment, what has yet to be explored is whether a connection betweenservice learning and civic engagement exists in all areas of highereducation. The research on service learning and civic engagementhas come from studies of public school service learning programsand service learning programs at four-year colleges and universities.Students attending all types of higher education institutions may beready for education that develops their connection to community.In a recent report published by the Carnegie Foundation for theAdvancement of Teaching and CIRCLE, researchers reported thatstudents are torn between idealism and the perceived imperativesof training for occupations and professions. There is evidence thatthe civic performance of higher education fails to meet studentsprematriculation expectations or their readiness to be engagedespecially for the increasing numbers of students who attend collegeat a later age and part-time (2006, p. 1).The description of a higher education student in this report mostcertainly applies to a percentage of students attending four-year insti-tutions. For community colleges, however, the description of studentsseeking vocational training and of older students and students whoattend college on a part-time basis defines the majority of students.If such students are ready for engagement, and civic engagement edu-cation is indeed part of the mission of higher education, then identify-ing methods that work to increase such students civic engagement incommunity colleges seems important. Yet, a review of the research onhigher education and civic engagement revealed no studies that hadbeen conducted specifically and exclusively on service learningsrelationship to the civic engagement of community college students.Such studies would be important in understanding the influence ofservice learning on a wider range of students because the overalldemographics and backgrounds of students who attend communitycolleges are different from students who attend four year collegesand universities. These differences may be important in understandingand fostering civic engagement in community college students. Ascommunity colleges now educate almost half of higher educationstudents in the country (American Association of CommunityColleges [AACC], 2007), such research seems necessary for a moreStudent Civic Engagement Through Service Learning 845Downloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 thorough understanding of how service learning may fostering civicresponsibility in higher education students.Certainly, the mission of community colleges has always been oneof democratic access for all who seek higher education (Cohen &Brawer, 2002). This open access has drawn students from walks of lifethat are not always found in four-year institutions. For example, com-munity colleges educate 57% of all Native American undergraduates,55% of all Hispanic undergraduates, 47% of Black undergraduates,and 47% of all Asian=Pacific Islander students. Students at com-munity colleges also tend to be older than students who attend four-year schools. The average age of a community college student is 29,with 42% of students ranging in age from 22 to 39; an additional16% of students are 40 years old or older. Students in communitycolleges also find financing college difficult. Forty-seven percentreceive some form of financial aid, and 23% of these students receiveneed-based federal grants. Additionally, 27% of community collegestudents are full-time students who also work full-time, and 50% offull-time students and 50% of part-time students work on a part-timebasis (AACC, 2007).As one method that has already been linked to civic engagementdevelopment in other higher education students, investigating whetherservice learning is connected to civic engagement in communitycollege students may be especially important. This study, thus, setout to investigate what role a semester or quarter-long service learningexperience has on community college students level of civic engage-ment when the definition of engagement is expanded to include bothpolitical and community awareness and participation.METHODOLOGYCivic Engagement Survey CreationIn 2003, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)was awarded their fourth service learning grant from the Corporationfor National and Community Service through its Learn and ServeAmerica initiative. The goals of the grant were to create and supportreplicable and sustainable models of service learning (AACC, 2006,para. 1), while also increasing the knowledge of and commitment tocivic engagement in the students who participated in service learning.From 20032006, AACC staff worked with eight competitivelyselected community colleges through this Community CollegesBroadening Horizons through Service Learning (Horizons) grant.846 M. PrenticeDownloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 As the grant evaluator for the project, I was charged with creating agauge for the grants end-outcome performance measure concerningcivic engagement. The measure stated that by the end of the grant,50% of service learners would demonstrate an increased knowledgeof, and commitment to, civic engagement through service after formalservice learning participation ended. To measure this outcome, twocivic engagement surveys were created. One was to be administeredat the beginning of the semester before any service learning workhad begun (precourse survey), and the second was to be administeredat the end of the semester as the service learning work was coming toan end (postcourse survey). The use of a precourse survey was impor-tant because critics of service learning research justifiably argue that ifonly an end-outcome measure is usedand service learners scorehigher at the endthere remains doubt about whether these studentswere different even before they participated in service learning.Perhaps students drawn to service learning have different study habits,different motivational levels, or different support systems than non-service learners. As a result, they may score higher on end-outcomemeasures than nonservice learners because of unmeasured traits ofthe students who chose service learning and not the experience withservice learning itself. Additionally, matching the students precoursesurveys with the postcourse surveys was important to ensure that onlystudents who completed the course would be assessed for possiblechanges due to service learning. Thus, in this study, before thepostcourse survey would be included for analysis, the researcher hadto have received a precourse survey filled out by that student.Both surveys had the same 27 questions. The postcourse survey hadan additional seven questions for service learners to answer regardingtheir service learning experience. The surveys were created by consult-ing the literature on civically related attitudes and behavior, consult-ing other service learning researchers, and reviewing other surveysabout civic involvement. The reviewed surveys were not chosen forthis study because they were either too long to be completed in the15 minutes of class time allotted by faculty for survey completion,or the focus of the questions was not exclusively on higher educationstudents.The two surveys were piloted during the spring 2004 academicterm. Community college program directors from the 32 colleges thathad participated in one of the previous service learning grants wereasked to administer the surveys. They were to do this in two classesthat did not offer service learning and in two classes that did offerservice learning as one of the academic experiences for the class. Fourof these program directors agreed to participate. At the end of springStudent Civic Engagement Through Service Learning 847Downloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 term 2004, completed matched surveys were received from these fourcolleges and reviewed for feedback from students who took thepiloted surveys. Based on this feedback, questions were modifiedfor clarity during the summer of 2004.Service Learning and Civic Engagement StudyBeginning in fall term 2004 and continuing each regular term throughspring 2006, both surveys were administered to community collegestudents. As a stipulation of participation in the Horizons grant, theeight selected community college service learning program directorswere required to administer the precourse civic engagement surveyand the postcourse civic engagement survey. They were to do thisfor at least two courses in which service learning was offered andtwo matched courses in which it was not. Directors were told thatthe matched nonservice learning courses should be as similar as poss-ible regarding course title and instructor. For example, the selection oftwo sections of introductory psychology that included service learningand two sections of introductory psychology that did not include ser-vice learning all taught by the same instructor would be preferable tothe same situation but with two different faculty involved in teaching.In small colleges with few multiple section courses, program directorswere told, if needed, to match two similar courses such as introductionto psychology and introduction to sociology. Ideally, the two psy-chology courses would be taught by the same psychology instructorand the two sociology courses would be taught by the same sociologyinstructor. In this case, one section of psychology and one section ofsociology would offer a service learning component, while the remain-ing section of each course would not. These situations occurred rarely.ANALYSESBy the end of the spring 2006 term, 168 matched surveys were returnedby first time service learners, and 145 matched surveys were returnedfrom students who reported that they had not participated in servicelearning during that semester or quarter. In an initial review of thedata, it was noticed that in answering question 25 (At this college,how many courses have you taken [before the current term] thatincluded service learning?), about 40% of the 145 nonservice learningstudents revealed that they had previously participated in servicelearning. Since almost half of the nonservice learners were in essenceservice learners from previous semesters, they could not be classified848 M. PrenticeDownloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 as nonservice learners in the comparison group; thus, they wereremoved before analyses, leaving 89 matched surveys from nonservicelearners available for analyses. All results presented are from the 168service learners and the 89 nonservice learners.DemographicsStudents were asked about their age, enrollment status, employment,whether they were caretakers of family members, and previous volun-teer experience. Service learners were younger than nonservice learners(82% and 71%, respectively, were under 25 years of age). Service lear-ners were more likely to be enrolled part-time (30% compared to 20%)and also more likely to work full time (26% compared to 15%), lesslikely to work part-time (40% compared to 64%), but slightly morelikely to not work at all (24% as compared to 21%). These studentswere slightly less likely to be caretakers of family members than non-service learning students (23% compared to 28%), and also less likelyto have previously volunteered regularly (16% compared to 22%) oroccasionally (42% compared to 54%). Interestingly, service learningstudents were more likely to have not previously volunteered at all thannonservice learners (42% compared to 24%). When the patterns ofthese demographics are taken together, overall, service-learners wereunder 25 years old, attending college on a part-time basis, and workingfull-time. They were less likely to have caretaker responsibilities andless likely to have volunteer experience than nonservice learners.Precourse Survey AnalysesTo understand what civic engagement similarities or differencesexisted between the two groups of students before the service learnersbegan their service, the precourse surveys of the two groups werecompared. Results of a t test revealed that there was no statistical dif-ference between the first-time service learners (N 168, M 5.85,SD 2.80) and nonservice learners (n 89, M 5.29, SD 2.59) atthe beginning of the academic term, t(255) 1.54, p .12 (two-tailed),a .05.Analyses of Matched SurveyAs the semester or quarter was coming to an end, the postcourse sur-vey was given to the same classes that had been surveyed at the begin-ning of the term. To analyze what, if any, changes in civic engagementhad occurred between the two groups of students, an ANCOVA wasStudent Civic Engagement Through Service Learning 849Downloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 used so that the postcourse survey scores could be compared while theeffects of the precourse survey scores were brought under statisticalcontrol. This analysis revealed a statistically significant differencebetween service learners (n 168, M 6.19 [adjusted], SD .60) andnonservice learners (n 89, M 5.17 [adjusted], SD .82) at theend of the semester, F(1) 9.26, p .003 (one-tailed), a .05.DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONSFOR PRACTICEService learners and nonservice learners began the semester or quarterwith similar levels of civic engagement knowledge and commitment,but over the course of the term, these levels increased for service learn-ing students. This should be good news for those who are calling onhigher education to provide civic education within the academiceducation already taking place; it should also please those withinhigher education who have been called upon to find the methods thatwould accomplish this goal. The results from this study also provideinformation about the effect that service learning participation mayhave on the civic engagement of community college students. Often,the differences between community college students and other postse-condary students are highlightedsuch as being nontraditional interms of age, family income level, and level of college preparationwhile in high school. But in this study, what comes through are thesimilarities between community college students and students atfour-year institutions in their civic engagement development whenprovided service learning as a method for academic learning.This study also provides one attempt at clarifying the results aboutthe impact that service learning has or does not have on civic engage-ment development.While previous results have been mixed, the defini-tions of civic engagement that have been used in these studies havealso been mixed. When a definition focused on political involvementas measured by such actions as voting and campaign involvement isused, service learning has not been found to lead to greater politicalengagement as traditionally defined. As mentioned earlier, college-aged residents have not been found to be engaged in traditionallydefined political engagement. It is this very lack of political engage-ment that spurred the establishment of the national commissionsand organizations to identify processes to increase their involvement.What these commissions recommended is that higher educationreclaim what many have believed to be one of its central missionsdeveloping the engaged citizen (Saltmarsh, 2005). To this end, an850 M. PrenticeDownloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 expanded definition of engagement would seem appropriate, and it isin using such a definition that allowed the impact of service learning tobe detected.When the results are reviewed, the implications from this studysuggest that community colleges, as part of the higher educationcommunity, are contributing to the development of engaged citizensalong with four-year colleges and universities. The results also implythat at least in the area of citizenship development, community collegestudents are not different from their four-year counter-parts. Finally,these results imply that an expanded definition of civic engagementmay allow for the detection of community involvement that mightbe more reflective of the day-to-day activities of students in their com-munities. Day-to-day involvement in politics may be less plausible forstudents, while day-to-day involvement in community issues andneeds may come more easily in the balancing of family, work, andacademic responsibilities as opportunities for such involvement maybe more numerous.These implications lead to two recommendations for practice.First, in order to capture the fullest meaning of what civic engagementinvolves, educators and administrators who are working to instill civicresponsibility in students should consider adopting an expanded defi-nition that includes political involvement and knowledge as well asinvolvement and knowledge of community issues. This expanded defi-nition should encompass the various types of engagement that are thegoals of this civic education. Second, the use of service learning tostimulate civic engagement should be introduced to more facultymembers. Educators are looking for such strategies, and as resourcesfor the implementation of, and benefits from, service learning appearto be numerous (National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2007), thiswould be an uncomplicated strategy to adopt for faculty with limitedtime to create individual approaches to such education.CONCLUSIONSService learning, at least from a review of existing studies, seems to beone of the more flexible methods that can spur civic engagement devel-opment in students. Service learning can be used in virtually any disci-pline and course as a tool to allow students to discover the connectionbetween the academics of the class and the political and communityissues related to that academic discipline. As students are providedadditional opportunities to be involved in service learning in futureclasses, then the connection between earning a higher education andStudent Civic Engagement Through Service Learning 851Downloaded by ["University at Buffalo Libraries"] at 07:03 07 October 2014 the greater responsibility for being involved civically in the communitymay also grow. This was the intent of those who called for highereducation to address what they saw as the diminishment of civic life.At a time when it seems that more people than ever before are enteringhigher education, it may be understandable that these institutions areperceived as a place in which civic engagement can be developed and,hopefully, sustained throughout a graduates lifetime. While researchhas investigated strategies, such as service learning, that might sparkthis development, what remains unknown is whether that spark issustained past graduation. Do students who participate in servicelearning while in college continue to be more civically knowledgeableand committed in the postgraduate years, or does the spark of engage-ment developed in college die away as the years away from educationincrease? Dewy and others looked to higher education to stimulatecivic involvement because they believed that once it was stimulated,it would continue throughout ones lifetime (Gottlieb & Robinson,2003=2004).For the time being, what seems to be emerging is that service learningin higher education can stimulate increases in civic knowledge and civiccommitment in community college students when the definition of beingcivic includes both political and community involvement. If the idea ofan education is that it is a journey and not a destination, then the find-ings from this current study are encouraging. This is because students incommunity colleges who participate in service learning may travel far-ther in their journey toward becoming engaged citizens than they mightotherwise have. Educators, encouraged by the findings of this study andothers, should continue to do the good work of educating for the com-mencement of both a professional life and a civic life once the strains ofPomp and Circumstance fade from the graduation hall.REFERENCESAhmad-Llewellyn, S. (2003). From knowledge, to service, to citizenship. Phi DeltaKappan, 62(1), 62.American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2006). Horizons servicelearning project. Retrieved from Grantee Colleges=Service Learning Alumni Colleges.htmAmerican Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2007). Community collegefact sheet. Retrieved from, R. M. (1997). Service learning and democratic citizenship. Theory intoPractice, 36, 150160.852 M. 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