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Overview of Community Service-Learning Within the CSU

Community service and community service-learning, or service-learning, have long standing traditions in the mission and purpose of the California State University. Established to "serve the people of California," the CSU can more effectively accomplish its mission with the use of community service-learning.

The most recent Student Needs and Priorities Survey (SNAPS) conducted in 1994 indicated that 49% of CSU students report community service involvement. Based on that data, it was estimated that CSU students provide over 28 million hours of community service each year. Given that community service is a central interest of many CSU students, it seems appropriate to explore ways to connect that interest to their academic endeavors. Community service-learning does just that. In the past decade, service-learning has become a widely accepted and effective way of enhancing the in-class academic experiences of students with the real-world, out-of-class benefits of providing service to the community.

Community service-learning, as defined in the CSU Strategic Plan, is "academic study linked to community service through structured reflection so that each reinforces the other." The plan outlines the benefits students receive from a service-learning experience: mastery of subject matter; application of academic learning to real-world activities; development of civic engagement and responsibility; and exploration of career opportunities.

Understanding the importance of developing service-learning opportunities for students, representatives from all CSU campuses came together at the first system-wide colloquium on community service-learning in March 1997. The group discussed ways to support the community service performed by CSU students and to link those experiences to the academic curriculum. Under the leadership of Tom Ehrlich, CSU Distinguished Scholar, this group developed a plan to expand and advance the scope of community service-learning and community service initiatives. This draft plan was then circulated to campuses to provide further input.

As a result, in September 1997, the CSU developed a Community Service-Learning Strategic Plan. The Plan provides direction for each campus to maximize the potential of community service and community service-learning on its campus. The two key objectives of the plan are to:

  1. Engage students at each CSU campus in at least one community service-learning experience prior to graduation.
  2. Offer a continuum of community service opportunities at each CSU campus, including a wide variety of community service-learning experiences, as well as extra-curricular and co-curricular community service experiences, (CSU, 1997).

In order to achieve those objectives, six priority goals were outlined, with detailed steps to arrive at these goals. The first three goals are campus-specific. The last three goals are system-specific. Given the distinctiveness of each campus within the CSU, the plan is carried out in a rich variety of ways, reflecting the mission, conditions and environment of each campus.

The second system-wide colloquium on community service learning was held at San Francisco State University in October 1997. At this meeting, campus representatives were asked to provide a report detailing their steps to achieve the first three campus-specific goals of the strategic plan.

This status report was prepared in an effort to provide an overview of the responses, which varied greatly from campus to campus. It presents a picture of the CSU campus efforts to institutionalize service-learning. It illuminates the successes that have already occurred, the challenges that still need to be addressed, and the innovations and resources campuses have developed.

Efforts that the campuses have made to respond to the strategic plan are much to be praised. Those efforts provide direction for future initiatives to continue the process of institutionalizing community service-learning in the California State University.

Content Contact:
Judy Botelho
(562) 951-4749
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Last Updated: October 15, 2012