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,UK

    Community College Journal ofResearch and PracticePublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ucjc20

    Civic 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: 10.1080/10668920802205014

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10668920802205014

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  • CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AMONG COMMUNITY COLLEGESTUDENTS THROUGH SERVICE LEARNING

    Mary Prentice

    Department of Educational Management and Development,New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA

    Higher 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 higher

    Address correspondence to Mary Prentice, Educational Management and Development

    Department, MSC 3N, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003. E-mail:

    mprentic@nmsu.edu

    Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 35: 842854, 2011

    Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1066-8926 print=1521-0413 online

    DOI: 10.1080/10668920802205014

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  • 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 and

    Student Civic Engagement Through Service Learning 843

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  • 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 learning

    844 M. Prentice

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  • 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 more

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  • 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 civ...

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