Service-Learning Pedagogy, Civic Engagement, and Academic Engagement: Multiple Bidirectional Relationships in College Freshmen

Valerie I. Sessa, Stanley Grabowski, Aishwarya Shashidhar


This study begins to unravel the multiple bidirectional relationships between service-learning pedagogy and civic and academic engagement attitudes and behaviors. A quasi-experimental, nonequivalent comparison group pre- and post-test design was used with a sample of 300 first- semester freshmen participating in either a service-learning-based learning community or a learning community without service-learning. Participants completed a pre-test at the beginning of the semester measuring high school civic and academic engagement behaviors and attitudes and a post- test at the end of the semester measuring the same variables based on their first semester in college. Students with higher civic engagement attitudes and behaviors prior to college were more likely to take a service-learning course than students with lower civic engagement attitudes and behaviors. Students in service-learning were more likely to participate in community activities than students not participating in service-learning. Finally, within the service-learning groups, students who were more academically engaged had higher academic and civic attitudinal engagement at the end of the course. Students who were more civically engaged were more likely to see lower costs of helping to themselves; they did not change in terms of their beliefs about the community’s needs. This study replicates and extends previous research to demonstrate that there are multiple bidirectional relationships among these variables that need to be taken into account in research and practice.


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