The impact of service-learning on engagement and degree completion for undergraduate students

In light of growing concerns over increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S., particularly among traditionally underrepresented student populations, this mixed methods study evaluated the impact of service-learning on institutional engagement and graduation rates. The study focused on the impact of service-learning experiences on students with low socio-economic status (SES) or those who identify as members of traditionally underrepresented minority (URM) populations. The intent was to develop a better understanding of how engagement indicators are influenced by service-learning in order to help practitioners design service-learning courses that maximize the experiences that contribute to student success. Quantitative methods were used to evaluate if participation in service-learning is predictive of degree attainment, and to identify the differences in engagement indicators from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), among students who participated in service-learning compared to those who did not. Qualitative methods were used to deepen the understanding of how service-learning impacts engagement and graduation rates for SES and URM undergraduate students. Interviews were conducted with students at senior status who participated in service-learning, and focus groups were held with recent alumni about the factors that contributed to their institutional engagement and degree attainment. Among the results, the quantitative results found that service-learning is significantly associated with graduation rate, and that students in service-learning courses reported enhanced academic challenge through collaborative learning. Qualitative findings revealed that service-learning experiences supported an improved campus environment for students through quality interactions with other students, faculty, and individuals at their service-learning site. The study confirmed previous research indicating that service-learning is an effective high-impact practice that promotes improved outcomes for undergraduate students.