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Study Connects Service-Learning Courses with Higher Retention

Study Connects Service-Learning Courses with Higher Retention

Posted: February 23, 2018

For years, Buffalo State has woven serving-learning into its curriculum, as a way to provide students with hands-on experience and to help its community partners complete meaningful projects.

A new study has revealed another benefit—students who take at least one service-learning course are more likely to stay in school and graduate.

“There has been a lot of national data on the positive impact of service-learning, and we wanted to see if it played out here,” said Laura Rao, director of the Civic and Community Engagement (CCE) Office. “We’ve known that students have a positive experience with service-learning courses and were pleasantly surprised by the impact on retention,”

CCE received raw data for 2014-2016 from the college’s Resources for Information, Technology and Education (RITE)  and analyzed student return rates from one semester to the next. They found a 9.3 percent higher retention rate for students enrolled in designated service-learning courses. In addition, they found that if students took at least one service-learning course, they were 25 percent more likely to graduate in four years. They compared variables such as high school average, gender, and ethnicity, and found gains for all groups. The gains were highest for African American and male students.

Buffalo State Provost Melanie Perreault said this is an affirmation of Buffalo State’s role as SUNY’s urban-engaged campus.

“Working with our community partners allows students to get real-world experience while sharing their knowledge and talent with businesses and organizations in the city of Buffalo,” Perreault said.

Rao attributes the study results to students feeling more connected to the classroom curriculum when applying it to community projects ranging from undertaking assessment surveys to offering dance instruction in an afterschool program.

“In one survey of a service-learning course, the students reported that when they’re working with real clients and not just doing an academic exercise, it feels more meaningful,” Rao said. “The community partners are enthusiastic to collaborate on projects that benefit students and the community, and the students develop academic and civic skills.” 

Sometimes the work they do in their service-learning courses helps students choose a major or a lifelong career, Rao said, adding that students have landed internships and jobs from the college’s community clients.

The research results come at a time when service-learning courses are on the upswing. In the fall the college offered 75 service-learning courses, primarily undergraduate; this represents a 25 percent increase from the previous year. 

“Faculty are increasingly showing their engagement by applying civic engagement to the curricula,” Rao said.

And with this trend, higher graduation rates may follow.

More information about the study can be found on the CCE website.

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