Educational access and success are typically framed as 'getting into' and 'staying in' college; getting good grades and graduating. When one is facing significant barriers to accessing and completing a college education, framing access and success in this way is necessary and right. But if one stops there, most of us would agree that we are not serving the interests of students as individuals or as part of a collective public. We must ask 'education for what?' and 'success to what end?' And we must consider the ever-changing world into which students need skills and dispositions that will realize their individual and collective potential. In this essay I reflect on the ways in which engaged scholarship contributes to successful students.

My own perspective is shaped by two roles I play at the University of California Los Angeles — analyzing large survey data sets at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), and evaluating local partnerships between my university and communities in Los Angeles through the chancellor's Center for Community Partnerships, which directs the "UCLA in LA" initiative. Both of these professional experiences have brought me into contact and conversation with many thoughtful others; the ideas I share are not new, but I hope by bringing some data into the discussion this essay can spark conversation and more research in this important area.

My enthusiasm and passion for this work is also shaped by my own experience as a parent of children in the public school system here in LA, and holding a leadership position at their school. I can see first-hand how success gets defined in different ways by parents, teachers and administrators who each have the best interests of the children in mind. Theory-meets-practice describes my work with my own children's learning experiences as well as trying to implement change. A basic principle of assessment is that there needs to be some consensus and clarity around what to measure, and my experiences as scholar and parent underscore the point that consensus may be common sense, but is not common practice.

As part of a HERI study1 of service-learning and civic engagement, we created a set of items for the 2004 Faculty Survey2 that examined faculty beliefs and behaviors around issues of engagement. The data reveal interesting patterns of beliefs and practices that can contribute to larger discussions of civic engagement and engaged scholarship in higher education.

It's clear from examining the responses of faculty members that there is stronger agreement over the importance of traditional academic skills than there is around concepts of civic engagement. Whereas 99 percent of faculty agree that it is very important or essential for undergraduates to develop the ability to think critically, and 94 percent report that helping student master disciplinary knowledge is very important or essential, only 61 percent attach such importance to preparing students for responsible citizenship. This is not surprising, of course, and one might argue that having over 60 percent of faculty members attaching high importance to the goal of preparing students for responsible citizenship is a good thing, but my point is that traditional academic skills seem to be viewed as somewhat distinct from preparing students for responsible citizenship. There is also consensus around what critical thinking is, and at least some agreement around what constitutes the knowledge base of various disciplines. In contrast, preparing students for responsible citizenship can be interpreted in any number of ways.

Furthermore, even though the majority of teaching faculty members believe that preparing students for responsible citizenship is very important, far fewer connect this belief to providing students practical experiences in community settings as part of their own coursework. For example, twenty-one percent of faculty report having taught a service-learning course in the past two years. My logic here is that if we are preparing students for responsible citizenship, we should be providing them opportunities to 'practice' engagement in communities beyond the campus, and that such opportunities need to be connected to academic course outcomes or learning goals. This perspective takes into account what we know from learning theory. Obviously, preparing students for responsible citizenship consists of a range of curricular and co-curricular activities, not just service-learning, but service-learning is a good example of a teaching tool used in academic courses to connect students with communities.

I'm not suggesting that every, or even most, faculty members need to use service learning. I do believe, though, that there is tremendous untapped potential to strengthen civic learning in higher education through community-based experiences that connect closely with academic goals such as critical thinking, effective writing, and disciplinary knowledge, not to mention developing an awareness of civic and community issues. Faculty members, departments, institutions, and students themselves all have a responsibility to explore where such connections can and should be happening.

Data from the Faculty Survey show similar gaps between faculty beliefs and practice when it comes to campus-community partnerships. Eighty-one percent of faculty members agree that "colleges have a responsibility to work with their surrounding communities to address local issues," but only forty-two percent report collaborating with the local community in research/teaching during the previous two years, and forty-eight percent use their scholarship to address local needs. It seems to me that these gaps represent some untapped potential if faculty can more closely connect their own academic work with their espoused values. Clearly, most faculty think that colleges and universities should play a role in addressing community issues, but are they perceiving it as their responsibility? They may view work with the local communities as the responsibility of some other campus entity, or perhaps they would like to be engaged, but for some reason are unable to more closely connect their own work with local community issues. This could be a function of time, experience in community-based work, or perceived lack of support for this work in their discipline or at the institution (or both).

Forty-six percent of faculty say that their institution places a high priority on creating and sustaining partnerships with surrounding communities, but fewer report that providing resources to faculty for such work is a high priority on their campus. Only thirty-one percent say that providing "resources for faculty to engage in community-based teaching or research" is a high priority at their institution, and among university faculty the percentages are even lower (27 percent of public university faculty and 28 percent of private university faculty).

In order to achieve real change in the level of faculty-engaged scholarship, faculty members will need to make it a goal of their teaching and research. It will need to matter to them and they will need to feel that their institutions and disciplines value and support such scholarship. I don't think anyone is arguing that all faculty members would be good in community-campus partnerships, but academic units would have to value engaged scholarship and community experiences enough to agree their students would benefit from the opportunity, and to support the work of those faculty members who are directly in involved in engaged scholarship and partnership work. Institutions could provide administrative support if many students are to be placed in community organizations, training/professional development opportunities in pedagogical issues related to this kind of work, and ultimately recognition in one's department/discipline of the products of such work in the tenure and promotion process.

The link between faculty-engaged scholarship and academic success of undergraduates is multifaceted. First, it can change the way faculty think about teaching and learning. In the service-learning studies we've conducted here at HERI, I've had the opportunity to meet with many faculty and staff members who are practicing or supporting service-learning. I've heard again and again that working with community agencies, and dealing with the issues that arise for students in community-based work, has fundamentally changed the way that faculty view their own work and the learning process for students. For some faculty members, letting go of being the (only) expert in the classroom is a not easy; for others the act of creating a course that makes clear connections between academic and community learning presents new challenges. But there is a consistent theme of this work challenging faculty to reflect on their own beliefs about knowledge, learning and teaching.

Second, students need opportunities to practice what we claim are the educational goals of our institution, whether that be traditional skills such as writing and critical thinking, or skills more recently acknowledged as important given the rapidly changing world in which we live, such as perspective-taking or working on teams with people from cultures dissimilar to one's own. And faculty themselves tend to teach in ways that they experienced as students, absent professional development opportunities they may have to improve their teaching. In recent years students have been more exposed to cooperative forms of learning, which may help explain why early-career faculty members are more likely than advanced-career colleagues to use cooperative learning, group learning, group projects and reflective writing/journaling in their courses (Lindholm, Szelenyi, Hurtado and Korn, 2005). One can imagine similar changes over time if a critical mass of faculty were trained in doing engaged scholarship.

Engaged scholarship also has implications for graduate student success. In the apprentice system that describes many graduate programs, opportunities to work with communities to address 'real-life' concerns can offer graduate students opportunities to practice engaged scholarship. Most faculty members get their doctorates at large research institutions, so I don't think we can underestimate the importance of the graduate student experience at research institutions.

Here at UCLA, the Community Partnerships provides financial support to graduate students to engage in partnership work, through the "UCLA in LA" initiative. This type of institutional support seems to be working on several levels. First, by providing graduate student support through faculty members, we hope we are strengthening institutional ties as well as providing graduate student support. In other words, we hope that faculty members and community partners will decide to continue a relationship, even when the graduate student moves on. Related to strengthening institutional ties is that a number of the funded partners report that having funding from the Chancellor's Office has been leveraged to get more funding from other agencies, to build upon the partnership work.

We learned some lessons about funding graduate students since the "UCLA in LA" program began three years ago. Early on, we'd made the decision to fund graduate student work directly, believing that it was a good thing to acknowledge the experiences and enthusiasm graduate students might bring to such work. As the year progressed, it became clear to us at the Center that we had assumed the graduate students were working more closely with their advisors (who had to sign off on the funding proposal) than some in fact were. Several of the graduate students completed wonderful projects and others plodded along. For a few, unforseen circumstances became major road blocks rather than temporary challenges. We found that faculty members almost always use funds to support graduate students, and have since decided to support graduate students by funding faculty, as well as to increase the structure we provide for reports.

The funded partnership program has also strengthened the work of faculty members. In addition to leveraging these funds to attract more funding, faculty members have told us that simply recognizing and validating their work in communities is important. To be sure, some projects are with faculty members who are well-known in their fields for doing this kind of work well, but the fact that the institution is supporting and recognizing the work makes a difference. For example, a senior faculty member in the medical school shared with us that because the funds were from the Chancellor's Office his community work was validated among his colleagues in ways that he had not previously experienced.

In numerous cases, faculty members have expressed that the funding provides them incentive and opportunity to engage in projects they've been wanting to do, but hadn't yet found the time. For some, it is a chance to work more systematically with a community partner they've known but not worked closely with, for others it's a chance to do a new project with a long-standing partner; still others are completely new to partnership work and/ or Los Angeles communities. Early-career faculty members are engaging in this work despite their concerns about promotion and tenure. Some of these are being told by colleagues that working in communities is a career-killer. These concerns seem to be tempered by the opportunity to receive some support and recognition to follow their passion.

The final benefit I will mention is that for some faculty members, the "UCLA in LA" partnership program provides an entrée into new cross-disciplinary relationships. The most common partnerships have been between Education and other departments (i.e. engineering, bio-chemistry), but unique partnerships have emerged as well (i.e. Center for Human Nutrition in the Medical School and World Arts and Cultures). I believe that strengthening such cross-disciplinary relationships benefits the faculty involved, the students they teach, and our institution.

I want to emphasize here that I'm not advocating colleges and universities as a social service agencies, or merely sources of volunteers for community-based organizations, nor do I believe that higher education should be completely driven by a particular set of social concerns. A strength of higher education lies in stepping back from any given social issue and examining it systematically, from different disciplinary perspectives. Another strength is the support of work considered 'basic' research — research that will yield insight to solving seemingly unrelated problems. I don't believe all faculty are capable of high quality engaged scholarship — any more than all faculty should be expected to be great teachers, prolific writers or productive researchers. What I do see, however, is quite a bit of untapped potential for engaged scholarship among faculty and students. The diversity of institutions in the American system assures that engaged scholarship will surely get enacted in any number of ways, just as differences across disciplinary 'ways of knowing' and 'ways of teaching' will influence practice.

This idea of engagement—engaged scholarship, civic engagement, community engagement, engaged students—has become a catch-all phrase that means many things. As a researcher and evaluator, I know that different constituencies will view engagement differently, just as they view higher education purposes in a variety of ways (job training, preparing citizens, having an educated cadre of leaders, addressing social problems, engines of local economies, etc.). While I don't think there needs to be a narrowly national consensus, institutions and disciplines would benefit from increased dialogue about the goals of education, the role that engagement plays, and come to some clarity on what the various terms mean. The process would likely be as useful as the outcome, and once some agreement is reached, assessment will make more sense.

As useful as developing some common definitions, it is even more important to see engagement as part of a larger picture of how we view the education of successful students. The members and leaders of the American Association of Colleges and Universities have been addressing this issue for some time now, by examining the civic engagement, diversity work, and global perspectives movements within the larger framework of liberal education. I have particularly resonated with the idea that the time has come to connect these movements more closely to each other so that resources get focused on a more cohesive and integrated experience for students. My own research findings on the types of college experiences that 'predict' post-college engagement outcomes show that diversity experiences and study abroad significantly shape civic outcomes, for instance, empirical reinforcement for the belief that the three concepts are interrelated.

Connecting experiences with outcomes leads me to one final point in this essay: high quality educational experiences benefit all students. K. Patricia Cross asserts that "effective teachers have a basic understanding of the learning process" (2005, p. 2). In truth, I believe that faculty and students both need training on the learning process — it is sorely lacking in formal education at all levels. But with some support, I think an understanding of the learning process can be strengthened through engaged experiences on the part of faculty and students, as well as an awareness of how learning (or research, for that matter) can be used in communities outside of higher education. Engaged experiences can bring to the classroom new ways of knowing, of teaching, and of learning. And a deeper understanding of how we know and learn will strengthen engagement experiences.

1 Understanding the Effects of Service-Learning: A study of Students and Faculty was supported by a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies, U.S.A. back

2 Information on the triennial Faculty Survey can be found at the HERI homepage. The numbers reported here can also be found in the Amercan College Teacher: National Norms for the 2004-2005 HERI Faculty Survey (Lindholm, Szelenyi, Hurtado & Korn, 2005). back


Cross, K.P. (2005). On College Teaching. Center for Studies in Higher Education Research and Occasional Paper Series 15.05. Berkeley: CSHE, University of California Berkeley.

Lindholm, J.A., Szelenyi, K., Hurtado S. and Korn, W.S. (2005). The American College Teacher: National Norms for the 2004-2005 HERI Faculty Survey. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.