A few months back I submitted a manuscript for consideration in a book about service learning. My work was declined and the feedback was that it referenced old research. That is a fair critique and one I run towards. We need more research from faculty, staff, students, and community members. We need to make it accessible to everyone. But I can’t reference material that doesn’t exist. In that spirit of accessibility, I’m including some high level bullets here from my submission.
But first let me say that we live in a time where cultivating good citizens is more important than it has been in decades. Recent events on campuses across the country unequivocally prove this. Yes we need well paying jobs for student loans, and cars, and rent, and groceries, but we also need young people who are engaged, in a respectful way, in the political process. We need students talking with those who have different viewpoints than their own, who understand how legislation is passed, who know that the way they interact with their neighbors matter, and who believe that the success of a democracy depends on equity. I don’t believe that cultivating good citizens should be at odds with preparing financially stable adults. I submit that a service year can serve as the connective tissue between career readiness and good citizenship.
I also believe that service years are the next high impact practice (Kuh, 2008), but we need more proof points. What we know:
- Service years build on the foundations of high impact practices, especially internships and service-learning;
- like other HIPS, service years increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves;
- corps members reported high levels of civic engagement (connection to community, community problem identification, neighborhood obligations, civic obligations, personal effectiveness of community service, personal growth through community service, local civic efficacy, grassroots efficacy, community-based activism, and engagement in the political process);
- more than service-learning, service years can create a depth in the relationship with the community, working to solve for challenges of time commitment, unprepared volunteers, and time spent on on-boarding; and,
- like internships, service years connected to academic credit allow young people to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world (think teacher preparation or nursing and social work practicums).
I’m asking colleges and universities to take the lead and consider how a service year can address some of the challenges we’re facing as a nation, and how it can solve for the challenges they face in college readiness and student persistence. Then we need to evaluate how we’re doing and how we can get better.