What Is Service-Learning?

Universities have invested in service-learning in increasing amounts over the past twenty years through teaching and learning, service, and scholarship. Administrative leadership and faculty are discovering that service-learning is an important part of the life of a university and of the region the university serves. 


Service-learning: A course or competency-based educational experience in which students participate in an organized activity that meets identified community needs with the goals of enhancing student civic responsibility, deepening student mastery of learning objectives of the curriculum, and engaging student critical, reflective thinking. Service-learning may include, but is not limited to, clinical education, cooperative education, field work, internships, practica, and student teaching, so long as these experiences engage students in self-assessment or reflection on the service and activity and include feedback from the served community. (2014 - UMKC Service-learning Task Force)

Philosophical Foundation

As a form of experiential education, service-learning shares similarities with internships, field education, practica, and voluntary service. Service-learning is unique because its philosophical foundation is reciprocity through equal partnerships and equal benefits for the university, faculty and students providing the service and for the recipients of the service.    

Importance - Communities

  • The opportunity for organizations to expand their reach without substantially increasing costs through new partnerships and resources.

  • Service-learning students bring new energy, ideas, and enthusiasm as well as specialized skills.

  • Increased public support and visibility in the community as students become ambassadors for the organization in their networks.

  • A new generation of caring and experienced citizens, activists, and volunteers is cultivated.

Importance - Students

  • Service-learning enhances the educational experience for students by challenging them to connect what they learn with real community issues. This leads to better academic performance, stronger relationships with peers and faculty, and increased participation in campus life.    

  • Civic engagement helps historically underserved students become part of campus life.

  • Students value service-learning because it gives them real-world experience, builds networks and contacts, and increases their feeling of personal success.

Importance - Faculty

  • Service-learning is a transformative teaching methodology that prompts students to apply their knowledge, talents and insights in a meaningful way.

  • Faculty teach service-learning courses because it promotes engaged learning, develops critical thinking skills, extends diversity, encourages responsibility to community, and facilitates career exploration.

Importance - Universities

  • Service-learning is an important way that universities contribute to the vitality and life of cities.

  • Service-learning is taught extensively at the K-12 level and many students come to college with community-based learning experiences.

  • Service-learning increases student persistence to graduation and improves retention rates.

  • As alums, service-learning students donate, attend events and recruit students.