Service and Civic Engagement as a Common Expectation in Higher Education

Theme: Embedding Engagement

David Eisner
Corporation for National and Community Service, DC
Constituent Group:
Amy Cohen
Learn and Serve America, DC
Constituent Group:
The mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency, is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. Through a family of service programs ? primarily SeniorCorps, AmeriCorps, VISTA, NCCC and Learn and Serve America ? the Corporation provides opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve their communities and the nation. Higher education is a key partner in all of these efforts. Yet, in order to build a more civically engaged society and develop leaders in civic life for today and for the years ahead, National Service and the Higher Education community can work even more closely to set a strong course to the future. The results of our work with higher education thus far demonstrate the power of our opportunity:
  • Roughly one quarter of all institutions of higher education have been supported by Learn and Serve America funding since 1994.
  • Since 1994, AmeriCorps members have earned over $1.1 billion in Education Awards to further their educational opportunities.
  • In FY 2005, higher education institutions received more than $207 million in Corporation funds.
  • Of the 75,000 members of AmeriCorps serving in 2005, over 20,000 performed their service in affiliation with colleges.
  • More than 37,888 Senior Corps volunteers serve in 83 projects operated by colleges and universities nationwide.
The Corporation has enthusiastically supported the growth and development of Campus Compact from its inception, as one of our most critical partners and allies. Learn and Serve America has provided over $5 million in support of Campus Compact's national office since 1994, supporting the Compact's growth and expansion and leveraging several times this amount to support higher education service, service-learning and civic engagement nationally. The focus of much of this work has been on professional development for faculty and administrators, including community service directors. In addition to the national Compact, Learn and Serve has directly funded 21 of the state Compacts or Compact networks since 1994. With the support of Learn and Serve, the Compact has expanded to 31 states and more than 1000 member campuses. The Corporation continues to place considerable strategic value on the growth and development of higher education service and citizenship. Most recently, we announced the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll program, a new initiative designed to identify and recognize institutions of higher education that pursue their civic mission through the encouragement and support of students' community service efforts. The Honor Roll is sponsored by the Corporation, the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation, USA Freedom Corps, and the U.S. Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development, and is presented in concert with Campus Compact. The Honor Roll program is intended to increase public awareness of the service contributions of higher education institutions and students to their communities and nation, and to increase the use of service-learning in higher education and the number of college students engaged in community service. The program will also identify and promote exemplary higher education community service programs and practices. Of the institutions that apply and are designated to appear on the Honor Roll, a limited number, those judged to be of the highest caliber, will be selected to receive the Presidential Higher Education Community Service Award, including a certificate signed by the President. Some of these 2006 awards will be given to institutions that contributed significantly to meeting the needs of individuals and communities in the Gulf Region in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes. Campus Compact's 20th Anniversary celebration provides a fitting venue to present the inaugural President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Awards. At a special ceremonial breakfast (from 7 to 9 AM at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on October 17) members of the Honor Roll will also be announced, along with data about student service projects of the honored institutions. In February 2006, the Corporation for National and Community Service released its Strategic Plan through 2010. Far beyond simply addressing the work of Corporation programs, the Plan sets forth bold national goals for service and service-learning, goals that USA Freedom Corps, the White House and many in the private, nonprofit and academic sectors have embraced. The four initiatives set forth in the Plan, including the goals to be achieved by 2010, are:
  • Mobilizing More Volunteers: We will expand the number of Americans who volunteer from 65.4 million to 75 million Americans.
  • Ensuring a Brighter Future for All of America's Youth: We will improve the lives of disadvantaged youth in two ways: by engaging 3 million of them in meaningful service; and, by engaging 3 million more Americans as mentors.
  • Engaging Students in Communities: We will expand to 5 million the number of post-secondary students who serve in their communities, up from 3.x million; and, we will expand service learning participation from 30 percent to 50 percent of America's k-12 schools.
  • Harnessing Baby Boomers' Experience: We will ensure that the reach, skills and experience of the Baby Boomers drives positive social change in America, by increasing the number of boomers engaged in service to 28.5 million, up from 25.5.
We look to the higher education community as a significant partner in achieving these national goals, which will frame our efforts for the next five years. We understand that the Higher Education community has the capacity and the aligned interests to offer significant support to each of these initiatives; of course, we also know that our point of strongest alignment is our focus on increasing the numbers of post-secondary students who serve their communities. From the Corporation's perspective, this focus on student service is not solely supported by our Learn and Serve America program, but, rather by our entire family of programs ? including VISTA, AmeriCorps, NCCC and Senior Corps as well as LSA. We are committed to building stronger partnerships between each of these programs and the higher education community in our pursuit of this objective. Together we know we can encourage greater integration of service into the academic mission of America's colleges and universities and increase the support offered on campus to those students who serve their communities. In order to reach the goal of 5 million students serving communities from their college campuses over the next five years, we expect that we will engage institutions of higher education in several discrete initiatives, including:
  • Use Higher Education assets and students to strengthen and expand our network of intermediaries (Volunteer Centers, Campus Compact, State Service Commissions, national foundations and public service non-profits, faith-based and other community based organizations at the state, community, and campus level)
  • Reduce barriers that inhibit students from engaging in service (such as transportation, information, relationships with community agencies, lack of institutional support, etc.),
  • Tie service more frequently to academic studies through high-quality service-learning,
  • Increase college student participation in services to youth from disadvantaged circumstances (including mentoring and tutoring).
  • Provide a national platform to promote the value and importance of service on campus.
Working closely with higher education institutions, the Campus Compact network and other higher education associations committed to service and civic engagement, we look to ensure that at least half of all higher education institutions provide the resources to coordinate service, service-learning, and community partnerships in order to stimulate more service and to improve the quality and coordination of existing activities. Together with our colleagues in higher education and at the U.S. Department of Education, we would certainly hope to see one important outcome of our efforts be that colleges and universities provide more service opportunities through the Federal Work Study program and other co-curricular opportunities to serve. In addition, we can work together to encourage higher education institutions to offer more service-learning courses, to increase the number of engaged academic departments, to encourage faculty and students to engage in collaborative community-based research, and to create more avenues for faculty, staff and students to engage in academically rigorous work that also provides benefit to local communities. Together there is much we can do to ensure that service to the community is an essential part of the mission and reward structure of higher education. The Corporation offers significant benefits, in the form of education awards and stipends, to AmeriCorps members who commit to full or part-time service. Currently, 50 institutions match the education award, and that list is growing daily. Working together, we can expand this tangible recognition of the value of AmeriCorps service exponentially. In addition, we can highlight the importance of service as a strategy for meeting a variety of pressing community needs. We are concentrating resources and efforts on meeting the needs of youth in disadvantaged circumstances, particularly through mentoring and tutoring. College access and preparedness are among the key issues facing communities today. While meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged, including youth in foster care and those who are the children of prisoners, is a daunting and challenging task, it is not insurmountable. The Corporation for National and Community Service and the higher education community are well placed to address these needs. Higher education has a special relationship with elementary and secondary education. Here too, higher education can make a significant impact in meeting needs and stimulating greater service. Learn and Serve America programs have been a catalyst for the growth of service-learning activity in our nation's K-12 schools. In 1984, nine percent of schools offered service learning opportunities. Today, service-learning reaches approximately 30 percent of all schools. Through our Strategic Plan, we have pledged to work to build service-learning into the curriculum of half of all K-12 schools by 2010. Higher education institutions' help is required. Schools of education can ensure that this cohort of teachers and the next generation of teachers are skilled in incorporating service into the curriculum. While Education departments are uniquely suited to train teachers and work with schools, higher education programs of all types are building community partnerships with schools to assist in their academic and civic activities and to meet a wide variety of community needs. Our efforts to advance a strategic plan to engage more students and more higher education institutions in service, service-learning and civic engagement make the most of the opportunities available to collaborate with colleges and universities, higher education associations, Campus Compacts, nonprofits and other government offices and agencies. And the prospects look great. Yet our vision of the future is not complete if we do not take into account some of the overarching barriers to collaboration and challenges to action. One of the challenges we face is language. We do not have a common, agreed upon set of terms. The terms we use to signify activities that include service to the community, reflection by the participants, and benefits derived by the individuals served and serving vary widely. In addition, those who refer to programs that contain this kind of reflective service, sometimes aim to characterize it as institutionally driven, sometimes as anti-institutional, and sometimes as ad hoc or a-institutional. We use the terms volunteerism, community service, service-learning, civic engagement, community outreach, community partnerships, civic learning, engaged scholarship, community-based research, community engagement and many others. Attempts to find just the right term to distinguish activities in order to legitimize, raise prestige, signify academic rigor, emphasize broader social aims, or meet the historical mission of a specific institution are important and justifiable in each instance. Unfortunately, when each instance is taken together, those outside "the field" and those outside higher education, often do not know that these terms are part of a single continuum, part of a singular and important drive to ensure that higher education students, faculty, staff, and institutions are solving real world problems and contributing positively to local communities. By using such fine-grained language, we dilute our potential to make a big difference. We must find a way to balance the real need for some rhetorical distinctions among truly disparate service and civic engagement activities with the equally important and urgent requirement for others to understand the strength and size of our common agenda. How will we forge the coalition? Another barrier to success is the divide separating K-12 and higher education. The lessons learned in the development of service and service-learning in elementary and secondary education have much to offer higher education as of course is true in reverse. We need to treat the conditions in these two educational arenas not as if one were more advanced than the other, but as a lesson in comparative study between two different cultures. Higher education may be able to learn a great deal about professional development or policy advances from K12, if it can be seen not as a developmentally inferior education system, but as a culturally distinct system. Similar is the challenge faced in teacher education. In order to make service-learning and civic engagement a standard expectation in all educational settings, the professional education teachers receive must include service and civic education as values and methods. While there are pockets of excellence, innovation, and widespread use of service-learning in schools and colleges of education, service-learning has not become a regular feature of teacher education programs across the country. In some instances, service-learning is used as a method to educate pre-service teachers, but they are not taught how to use service-learning in the classrooms they will lead. In order to truly build service-learning into the next generation of schools and higher education institutions, teachers and other educators will need to know how to build the community partnerships and integrate service and learning so that students will be able to perform meaningful and valuable service. No thoughts about the future of service and civic engagement in higher education would be complete without a discussion of the possibilities and hopes for the future of Campus Compact. As noted above, the growth of the Compact in its 20 years is extraordinary. The leadership exhibited by each of the national Compact's executive directors, its staff members and national board members have created a strong and powerful organization. The Compact has done much to keep the vision of higher education institutions as civic institutions central and the Compact has done even more to make that vision a reality. In the coming years national Campus Compact should more directly take on the challenge of helping to shape national higher education policy. In addition, while Campus Compact is an organization of higher education presidents, the presidents might consider expanding both the membership and the services of the Compact. Students and faculty deeply committed to service and service-learning could find a home within which to advance networks and build skills. Of particular interest are the new higher education professionals ? community service directors, service-learning directors, civic engagement directors ? that have been created by the expansion of organized service and service-learning. Campus Compact has a boundless opportunity to support and advance this new professional field. Strengthening these individual constituencies will lead to advances in service and can contribute to an increase in the amount and quality of service and service-learning as well as the development of a coherent policy strategy. National Campus Compact, the state Campus Compacts, individual colleges and universities, and the Corporation have worked together since 1994 to advance higher education's civic mission. This has brought us close to the "tipping point." We look forward over the coming years to working collaboratively with higher education institutions and the Campus Compact network to truly make service and civic engagement a common expectation of college students and of higher education institutions.

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