An engaged campus is one that is consciously committed to reinvigorating the democratic spirit and community engagement in all aspects of its campus life: students, faculty, staff and the institution itself. Community engagement includes service learning, which integrates community service into academic study, gives students an opportunity to improve their citizenship skills, and renews the faculty member’s enthusiasm for teaching. Service learning, however, is only one characteristic of an engaged campus. The engaged campus, like the service-learning student, recognizes that knowledge cannot be separated from the purposes to which it is directed. The engaged campus is not just located within a community, it is intimately connected to the public purposes and aspirations of community life itself. The engaged campus in unable to separate its unique responsibility for the development of knowledge, from the role of knowledge in a democratic society to form the basis for social progress and human equality.

In addition to extensive student learning through service, there are common practices that characterize an engaged campus. For presidents, this means a deep commitment to and articulation of the importance of community engagement. For faculty, this includes a scholarship of engagement to share their knowledge with and help their students learn from the community. For campuses, this means having staff whose job it is to build collaborative community relationships based on mutual respect. Finally, it is sharing with the community such physical and economic resources of the campus as space, athletic facilities, purchasing power and employment opportunities.

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Why should a campus be engaged?

American higher education has a long and rich tradition of seeking higher moral and civic purposes in its endeavors. College presidents have advocated for democratic reform, and students have challenged the injustices of society. In addition, campuses have been the sites of debate on the critical issues of the day and faculty have sought to provide students with the tools for rigorous analysis, critical reflection, and participation in the democracy. However, many in the academy are deeply concerned that these traditions are, today, threatened by both an entrenched emphasis on disciplinary divisions and an excessive focus on preparation for the workplace.

Campus Compact believes that, now more than ever, higher education is challenged to educate the leaders of tomorrow and to connect those future leaders with the world of today. There is widespread concern about the state of American democracy as voter registration continues to decline and public apathy and cynicism about political life increase among youth, even as their participation in service activities increases. We need to prepare students to succeed in a multicultural world both in America and internationally. At the same time, American communities reach out for help only to find a rapidly shrinking pool of resources. In spite of a strong economy, America has homeless people in every town, children going to bed hungry, and children whose education leaves them unprepared for work in a complex and unstable world.

It is a time in our civic life when the role of central government is declining and other sectors are being called upon to address our community needs and reinvigorate our democracy (Gardner, 1995). Higher education-its leaders, students, faculty, and staff-can be a key institutional force in this effort. Although subject to economic pressures and political agendas like all of our institutions, colleges and universities have the intellectual and professional resources to be actively engaged in addressing community issues.There are many reasons for mobilizing the resources of higher education on behalf of society. This is part of the grand tradition of American higher education. Legislators and other stakeholders are asking about the social utility of higher education. Many campuses are located in disadvantaged communities, and all campuses are affected by the poor quality of elementary and secondary education of disadvantaged youth because it limits their access to higher education and narrows the pipeline of diverse talent that campuses seek.

The academy also has much to gain by community engagement, including the intellectual challenges of applying scholarship to the pressing issues of the day and the prospect of new interdisciplinary insights that the scholarship of engagement will bring. In addition, community engagement can be an important catalyst for the institutional change demanded by dramatic changes in the economy, advances in technology, and the increasing diversity of students attending college.

What are indicators of an engaged campus?

Indicators of an Engaged Campus

Any of the characteristics of wider institutional engagement, occurring in concert with other characteristics on a campus, suggests the emergence of an “engaged campus.” However, it is unlikely that all characteristics will be apparent on any one campus. These characteristics should not be regarded as prescriptive; their value lies in the possibilities they suggest. They include:

1) Mission and purpose that explicitly articulates a commitment to the public purposes of higher education.

2) Administrative and academic leadership (president, trustees, provost) that is in the forefront of institutional transformation that supports civic engagement.

3) External resource allocation made available for community partners to create richer learning environments for students and for community-building efforts in local neighborhoods.

4) Disciplines, departments, and interdisciplinary work have incorporated community-based education allowing it to penetrate all disciplines and reach the institutions academic core.

5) Faculty roles and rewards reflect a reconsideration of scholarship that embraces a scholarship of engagement that is incorporated into promotion and tenure guidelines and review.

6) Internal resource allocation is adequate for establishing, enhancing, and deepening community-based work on campus – for faculty, students, and programs that involve community partners.

7) Community voice that deepens the role of community partners in contributing to community-based education and shaping outcomes that benefit the community.

8) Enabling mechanisms in the form of visible and easily accessible structures (i.e., centers, offices) on campus to assist faculty with community-based teaching and to broker community partnerships.

9) Faculty development opportunities are available for faculty to retool their teaching and redesign their curricula to incorporate community-based activities and reflection on those activities within the context of the course.

10) Integrated and complementary community service activities that weave together student service, service-learning and other community engagement activities on campus.

11) Forums for fostering public dialogue are created that include multiple stakeholders in public problem-solving.

12) Pedagogy and epistemology incorporate a community-based, public problem-solving approach to teaching and learning.

(Hollander, Saltmarsh, and Zlotkowski, 2001; Hollander and Saltmarsh, 2000)

Assessing Current Engagement Activities

Every institution does have some level of existing activity already going on, but institutional leaders are often puzzled as to how to find out what’s already happening. A survey of all faculty must be carefully designed so as to be clear in the data it seeks to collect. Especially problematic is the use of language. Different individuals and disciplines may think differently about terms such as service, applied research, community partnerships, public service, volunteerism, service learning, civic engagement, and so on.

Leaders have a big impact on campus attitudes toward civic engagement when they seek to learn more about current activities. After all, the questions you may ask tend to send messages and direct people’s attention. The very act of collecting information will inspire campus discussion and raise the visibility of engagement as a campus role.

Before collecting information about engagement activities, think through what you really want to know, what the impact of the collection may be, and how it will be used. It’s one thing to collect a lot of information, but it’s another thing to use it as a tool to promote progress. There are many ways to collect evidence, and suggestions are given below. However, you need to be prepared to analyze the information and use to answer critical questions such as:

  • What is our overall strategy for civic engagement?
  • What organizational changes need to be made to fulfill our engagement mission?
  • What is the alignment among our academic strengths, community needs/assets, and engagement activities?

Suggestions for Campus Assessment Activities and Data Sources

  • Support campus discussion to understand and define terms and create a common language of engagement
  • Look at web pages for examples of engagement activity
  • Analyze internal grant applications and sabbatical reports
  • Analyze external grant proposal activity and funding streams – convene faculty who have engagement projects and support them as early adopters
  • Add relevant questions to student or faculty surveys
  • Review campus publications, reports, self-studies for examples
  • Hold focus groups across academic units
  • If your institution is small enough, convene the campus as a whole and discuss current engagement activities; or hold a community day that showcases projects
  • If your faculty complete annual activity reports, analyze them for evidence of engagement
  • Scan the course catalog for examples of service or community-based learning
  • Review course syllabi for examples of service learning
  • Inventory the partners and the projects of institutes and centers
  • Establish a recognition award for engagement – track the nominations
  • Hold town meetings that bring faculty and community together
  • Ask Campus Compact or other campuses with engagement experience to visit your campus and conduct an assessment
How do you get a Campus Thinking about Civic Engagement?

Even if the campus does not yet have a clear consensus on its mission, or the mission review process is not complete, there is much that can be done to promote campus discussion about the role of civic engagement and to promote engagement activities.

A multi-dimensional approach is best because different members of the campus community will have different motivations or concerns about engagement or will respond to different kinds of incentives and rewards.


In promoting campus attention to civic engagement, it helps to understand what motivates people, faculty in particular, to involve themselves in scholarly work related to civic engagement.

  • Personal values – This is the right thing to do….it connects my personal and professional values.
  • Disciplinary Culture/Standards – Engagement makes sense for my discipline (social work, etc.)
  • Incentives – I’m interested, but I need assistance, support, time
  • Evidence – I want to be convinced that this will have positive impacts on student learning, on research productivity, or on community conditions
  • Rewards – This work is valid within formal and informal reward systems
  • Reputation/Prestige – This work can bring respect to the individual, department or campus through new grants, a positive public image, donor support, peer recognition, etc.
Specific Change Strategies


Every institution has individuals and programs that are already engaged in extending the university into the community; however, the level of awareness about these activities varies. As a campus explores enhancement or expansion of engagement activities, a good first step is to recognize, highlight, and reward the work that is already happening.

• Invite engaged faculty to present seminars and workshops to their colleagues
• Support their attendance at regional and national conferences about engagement
• Provide stipends to support new or expanded projects
• Highlight engaged faculty and their projects in campus publications
• Establish an annual award for faculty achievement in civic engagement
• Add notations to student transcripts to indicate service learning courses

Promote Learning

Change in academic organizations is enhanced by a focus on learning. Those not yet committed to civic engagement can learn much from the literature, research, and examples of good practice.

• Distribute literature on the role of civic engagement
• Invite scholars of civic engagement to speak on campus
• Fund opportunities for faculty leaders to attend national conferences that will include attention to civic engagement. This may include disciplinary meetings because many academic societies (American Political Science Association for one example) are now interested in issues of community-based learning, service learning, and faculty engagement in applied and community-based research.
• Support faculty visits to other campuses that have made progress or been recognized for engagement
• Create a faculty leadership group to plan development activities, events, and discussions

Walk the Talk – Demonstrate the Importance of Engagement

• Add language regarding civic engagement to job announcements and to hiring criteria
• Highlight support for engagement in budget priorities and allocations
• Ask departments to report regularly on engagement activities and publish the reports
• Collect data on civic engagement outcomes and share the analysis
• Promote faculty involvement in preparing grant proposals for extramural funding for engagement
• Make support for civic engagement a priority in donor cultivation/gift solicitation
• Create web links on campus pages that link to external organizations
• Establish scholarships for student involvement

Promote Discussion

• Sponsor events, symposia, forums on democracy, public culture, citizenship, or on community-based issues
• Bring community representatives into campus events and campus discussions. Expand the role of external advisory groups
• Challenge faculty to explore the role of civic learning in the curriculum
• Fund faculty to conduct research and to collect data on community needs, assets, and conditions
• Ask for departments to produce strategic plans regarding civic engagement. Need questions for discussion that would guide any department’s exploration of engagement?
• Convene existing research/service centers and institutes and promote integrated planning and collaboration

Provide Incentives

Some of the greatest barriers to expanded campus involvement in engagement activity are opportunity, time, resources, assistance, and training.

• Create campus infrastructure to support faculty involvement in engagement
• Invest in faculty development regarding civic engagement
• Provide small, competitive internal grants to support faculty experimentation with engagement.
• Involve faculty in making award decisions.
• Send faculty and students and community partners to conferences
• Seek major grants/gifts for engagement
• Add engagement goals to criteria for sabbaticals, summer study support, etc.
• Create exchange opportunities between the campus and external organizations
• Establish faculty fellowships or graduate assistantships around engagement goals

Measuring and Counting Civic Engagement

In March of 2001, Campus compact brought together a diverse group of college presidents, academic administrators, faculty, foundation leaders and classification experts to examine the prospects for altering accreditation, classification or ranking systems to recognize campus civic engagement and service learning efforts.

Major findings:

• Individual campuses with extensive commitment to civic engagement and service-learning are urged to seek an assessment of their civic engagement/service-learning efforts as part of the accreditation process. In this way, campuses can high light their efforts and get a comprehensive picture of them as part of a process they have to do anyway.

• Campus Compact is urged to document current civic engagement and service learning efforts in a divers set of their current membership. The Compact should use the Indictors of An Engaged Campus to frame this effort. This information is needed to build a body of evidence from which accreditation, classification and ranking measures can be constructed.

A full summary of the proceedings and advice to Campus Compact are available below, as are helpful background papers prepared for this meeting.