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Since the creation of the first colonial colleges, U.S. higher education institutions have been focused on the public purpose of education. Welch (2016) outlined the rationale and motivation behind the culture and scholarship of engagement for higher education in Engaging Higher Education: Purpose, Platforms, and Programs for Community Engagement. This historical movement, or “pathway,” toward community engagement was created due to institutions’ pursuit of serving the public good. The phases of the pathway, which overlap, have informed a current understanding of the role of higher education in this pursuit.

The first phase, public purpose, emerged after the Morill Act of 1862, which articulated the value of secular service to the community at large. During this time, scholars such as John Dewey argued for educational practices that create and share knowledge in ways that foster the development and growth of communities as well as students. Pragmatic purpose is identified as the second phase, which occurred during the research institution boom. During this phase, universities and colleges sought opportunities for technology and knowledge transfer, positioning their outputs as valuable to the public at large. The third phase, political purpose, arose in the 1960s and 1970s as a response to students’ civic mindedness and affinity for activism. As institutions responded to this cultural shift from students, the fourth phase, pedagogical purpose, was born, and servicelearning became a frequently used approach to engage students and scholars in community-focused work. This trend has led into what Welch (2016) considers our current phase, the professional purpose, which challenges institutions to create programs, policies, and practices that focus on the benefit and development of students, faculty, and community partners.

Based on Welch’s (2016) historical pathway, institutions of higher education have been realizing and honoring their public purpose via formal pedagogical service models since the early 1990s. From this perspective, universities and colleges arc no longer seen as solely responsible for generating knowledge and creating the newest trained members of the workforce, as this contemporary approach to engagement honors that knowledge and expertise exist outside of the university and that students can learn outside of a traditional classroom setting (Fitzgerald et al., 2012). Therefore, institutions arc now being called to engage with their communities, local organizations, schools, institutions, and community members, not only for the purposes of student learning, but also for a purposeful commitment to community impact.

An example of these new expectations for higher education arc reflected in the 2012 report, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's

Future, published by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). This report stemmed from a charge from a Department of Education task force to reenergize education’s democratic and civic purpose: namely, promoting civic inquiry, literacy, and action on higher education campuses nationwide (The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, 2012). Since that time, institutions and professional organizations alike have created initiatives and resources to support the institutionalization of civic and community engagement across the field of higher education. Such initiatives include Campus Compact’s Civic Action Plan Initiative and Indicators of Engagement strategy, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) American Democracy Project, and the AAC&U’s Civic Engagement VALUE Rubric (Hoy & Johnson, 2013).

The 2002 AASCU publication, Stepping Forward as Stewards of Place: A Guide for Leading Public Engagement at State Colleges and Universities, defines public engagement with four key identifiers: place-related, interactive, mutually beneficial, and integrated (Votruba et al., 2002). Therefore, if fully engaged and committed, institutions will partner with local communities to exchange knowledge, mutually identified assets, concerns, priorities, and resources for shared benefit in authentic and formative ways that positively impact the community (Mitchell, 2013). By engaging students in these collaborative project-based engagement opportunities that cultivate not only their professional abilities but also their social and emotional skills, institutions are able to meet society’s expectations for educating today’s youth and positively impacting the communities in which they are located.

It should be noted, however, that the trend toward the institutionalization of community engagement and service-learning in higher education is largely an outgrowth of the creation of nonprofit organizations, such as Campus Compact, a national coalition supporting college student civic development, and funding organizations, such as Learn and Serve America, a federal initiative of the Corporation for National and Community' Service (Hatcher & Erasmus, 2008). Furthermore, public and governmental expectations of higher education institutions include providing students with meaningfill experiential learning opportunities that serve the public at large (Butin, 2006).

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