Making the Case for Civic Engagement through Campus Compact

ELKINS, Julie B. (2010)

In this article Julie B. Elkins, Director of Academic Initiatives of Campus Compact, reflects upon the civic engagement’s concept and how it advances the public purposes of universities by deepening their ability to improve community life.

In today’s global society there are an infinite number of opportunities to create collaborative partnerships at the local, regional, state, national, and global level as well as a variety of inspirations for engagement. Campus Compact has been at the forefront of promoting community engagement for over 20 years with more than 1,100 college and university presidents—representing some 6 million students—who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education. As the only national higher education association dedicated solely to campus-based civic engagement, Campus Compact promotes public and community service that develops students’ citizenship skills, helps campuses forge effective community partnerships, and provides resources and training for faculty seeking to integrate civic and community-based learning into the curriculum.

Community engagement has been at the forefront connecting knowledge and citizenship for young adults. Community engagement describes “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (Carnegie 2010). Community engagement advances the public purposes of colleges and universities by deepening their ability to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility.
Since the birth of the American university, there has always been some level of involvement with the communities where they have been housed, but many institutions have grown beyond the casual, and now embrace community/civic engagement as part of their mission. Today, several hundred colleges and universities proclaim community engagement as a core part of their mission and direct their resources, and research to support powerful partnerships with local and global communities.
One of the most recent demonstrations of a surge in a commitment to citizenship has been the institutionalization of the new elective category of Community Engagement by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Classification. The elective category is markedly different from previous classifications that use national data to determine ranking. Institutions now submit self-reported data on community engagement to Carnegie for review. A Carnegie Classification committee then reviews submissions through a set of measurements that identify Community Engagement as a central feature of institutional identity and culture.
Service-learning, community engagement, and civic engagement are here to stay, this is not a fad. They speak to the core of colleges and universities through their pedagogical style of teaching and research that essentially defines the purpose, philosophy, and guiding mission of each institution. There is good reason that so many colleges and universities are re-asserting their mission to civic engagement; it works!
Significant data have measured changes in student’s attitudes about others based on their direct experiences with community engagement (Giles & Eyler, 1999; Battistoni, 1997). Research also reveals student changes in attitudes towards service after they experience service-learning experiences (Astin & Sax, 1998).
Service learning as defined by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is “a credit-bearing, educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, gain a broader appreciation of the discipline and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (2010).” The pedagogical principles of service-learning have had a profound positive effect on individual students, universities, and communities. This applied experiential modality is one of the most effective tools for enhancing knowledge and citizenship in American colleges today.
In addition to increasing the student knowledge, community engagement provides a fertile ground for inspiring civic engagement. A number of studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between service-learning and civic education (Eyler & Giles, 1999, Battistoni 1997). Ernest Boyer was a tremendous leader and visionary for higher education as he challenged us to connect “the rich resources of the university to our most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems” (p 18).
Campus Compact provides leadership for connecting resources to civic engagement. Individual faculty may access an abundance of resources such as specific examples of syllabi from Anthropology to Writing Seminars through Campus Compact’s national website: Civic engagement has moved beyond the social sciences to the fields of Architecture, Engineering, Chemistry, Geology, Law and Urban planning, just to name a few.
Obviously, projects such an engaging young adults to get out the vote represent a singular path to civic engagement, but there are many other avenues for promoting citizenship. The Higher Education Research Institute has shown that “participation in service during undergraduate years enhances the student’s development not only during college, but also during the post college years (Sax & Astin, 1997). The power of experiential learning is significant and cuts swiftly across all disciplines for use as a springboard to future civic involvement. David Kolb’s work on learning (1984) articulated the importance of moving past an individual and joining disparate experiences and collaborative dialogues to attach meaning.  This pairing of knowledge and experience can launch tremendous opportunities for advancing civic engagement within individual students and within the university community.
Civic engagement has been instrumental in creating strategic planning and programs to tackle the most complex problems. Faculty and students alike have been instrumental in collaborating with communities to research and provide services in the areas of creating sustainable resources, health issues, protecting clean water supplies, housing, and basic human rights. This direct service is instrumental in preparing students for continued civic involvement in the future.
John Dewey argued that American democracy and education are inexorably intertwined and now there is evidence that this marriage is not one of convenience, rather, it advances the university, the community, and the world to a place of increased participation and citizenship today and the future.

Astin, A. W. & Sax, L. (1998). “How graduates are affected by service Participation.”  Journal of College Student Development 39 (3):
Battistoni, R. M. (1997). Service-learning as civic learning: We can learn fromour students.  In G. Reecher & J. Cammarano (Eds.) Education forcitizenship, p/ 31-49. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers.
Boyer, E. E., & Mitgang, L. D. (1996). Building community: A new future for architecture education and practice. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (2010).
Eyeler, J., Giles, D.  (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learing. Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco, CA.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning.  Experience as the source of learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Sax, L., & Astin, A. (1997). The benefits of service: Evidence from undergraduates. Educational Record, 78, 25–32.

About the author

Dr. Julie B. Elkins is the Director of Academic Initiatives with National Campus Compact. She provides leadership and strategic focus for Campus Compact’s work to embed civic and community engagement within teaching and research activities at the more than 1,100 member colleges and universities representing over 6 million students. Dr. Elkins advises and collaborates with the network of 35 state Campus Compact offices on strategies to promote engaged campuses and the scholarship of engagement, including professional development opportunities for faculty and administrators. Dr. Elkins hold a BA in Social Work from Central Missouri State University, a MS in Student Personnel Service and Counseling from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a Doctorate of Education from UMASS-Boston.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


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