Service-Learning in Higher Education: Why it Matters

Service-learning prepares students for a lifetime of responsible, impactful leadership by combining in-classroom learning with engagement opportunities in their local, national and global communities. By combining academic study with hands-on learning, students create positive change in their communities while building real-world skills.

Service-learning has been a part of the U.S. education system for many years. But, as new generations of students place increasing weight on the value of purpose-driven, socially-impactful educational experiences and careers, it is more important than ever.

When service-learning is designed well, it positively impacts students and the communities they partner with, preparing students to become active and engaged citizens while building capacity for service organizations. But what can service-learning look like in higher education, and how can your university or college ensure your programs are meaningful and beneficial?

Types of Service-Learning

Every community partner is different, and, as a result, service-learning programs come in all shapes and sizes. But broadly, service-learning can be broken down into four categories.

  • Direct Service: This describes when students work on the frontline of a nonprofit or community agency, doing work that directly impacts community members. Direct service could include staffing a crisis helpline, working in a shelter or tutoring local students.
  • Capacity Building: Capacity building, or indirect service, describes work that students do to support an organization's operations, working behind the scenes to sustain its mission. This could include anything from communications planning to grant writing. 
  • Community-Engaged Research: Research undertaken with a partner to examine particular challenges or patterns in a community and, ideally, stimulate action. An example could be students working with a civic agency to examine voting patterns in local neighborhoods and model solutions to increase access and engagement.
  • Advocacy: Students use their voices and resources to amplify community concerns and demand action through advocacy work. This could include lobbying, community organizing and awareness-raising campaigns.

The Value of Service-Learning

Successful service-learning projects can set students on a path of lifelong advocacy and community engagement, informing their career progression long after graduating. In reflecting on service-learning, students often state that the experience had a lasting impact on them, giving them skills they can use in their future education, career and life. 

Through service-learning, students:

  • Deepen their understanding of their relationship to their communities
  • Translate what they're learning into action, developing problem-solving skills
  • Build workplace skills, from fundraising and data analysis to interpersonal and communication skills
  • Learn more about their purpose and the impact they wish to have on the world
  • Develop cultural competence and empathy

Service-learning also has enormous benefits for community partners. It allows nonprofit organizations to tap into a vast group of potential volunteers, co-learners and advocates. It helps organizations spread awareness of their cause and provides them with resources to build long-term capacity for their work.

Measuring Growth and Impact in Service-Learning

To effectively lead service-learning projects, you need to have the right tools. Just as you track progress and set learning outcomes for classroom learning, students and educators need to understand growth, progress and impact in service-learning.

A service-learning management platform like GivePulse allows professors and educators to streamline the logistics of tracking engagement for students in service-learning courses. GivePulse integrates with campus Learning Management Systems to synchronize service-learning course details and rosters to facilitate faculty, staff, partner and student engagement and measure quantitative and qualitative outputs, such as hours served and reflections submitted.

By streamlining service-learning management, you can ensure that students engage appropriately with community partners and that learning outcomes are met. 

Ready to experience service-learning software designed with you in mind? Schedule a demo with GivePulse today to see how we can support you, your students and your community.



About GivePulse

GivePulse's mission is to enable everyone in the world to participate and engage in lifting their community to new heights. We do so by providing a platform to list, find, organize and measure the impact of service-learning, community engagement, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and volunteerism.

Founded in 2012 in Austin, Texas, GivePulse works with 650,000+ groups, including colleges and universities, nonprofits, businesses, K-12/school districts and cities and municipalities. Together, we connect millions of people in an effort to create positive social change.

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