How does service-learning affect student learning?

In the report “How Service-Learning Affects Students” (Astin, A.W., Vogelgesang, L.J., Ikeda, E.K., and Yee, J.A., Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2000), researchers sought to determine the effects of service-learning and community service on college undergraduates and how learning was impacted by the service experience. Longitudinal data was collected from 22, 236 college undergraduates attending a national sample of colleges and universities. Some of the principal findings related to the impact of service-learning on the student academic experience were:

  • Participation in a service-learning course demonstrated a significant positive impact on academic performance (GPA, writing skills, critical thinking skills), values (commitment to activism and promoting racial understanding), career choice in a public service field and plans to continue service participation after college. The impact of service-learning courses was strongest for academic performance, particularly writing skills.
  • Better than four out of five students participating in service-learning courses stated that they were learning from their service activity and felt they were making a difference in the community.
  • Qualitative findings from the study found that both faculty and students participating in service-learning courses felt that they had developed an increased awareness of civic responsibility and a sense of self-efficacy.
  • Student interest in the field of study or subject matter was the single most important factor connected with a positive experience in a service-learning course. Interest in the subject matter was particularly relevant as it related to how the service experience improved the student's understanding of the academic course material. This provides persuasive evidence to support the idea that service-learning courses should be included in a student's area of major study.

“Although we were providing a service to the children, they, in turn, provided a very profound service to me…. I never realized how much I could learn from a young group of children… I learned what it feels like to make a difference in a child's life… I now realize the importance of the profession I am entering into.” ~ Clemson Horticulture student