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The Design and Implementation of a Strategic Plan for Community Service Learning.


This paper describes the design and implementation of a strategic plan to institutionalize community service-learning (CSL) at the university level. The paper outlines the plan designed at the twenty-two campuses of the California State University, and details ways in which any university or college can develop an effective strategic plan for CSL. Methods and specific examples of how faculty, staff, students, and community members can work together collaboratively toward institutionalization of CSL are presented.


Despite the advantages of proceeding systematically using a strategic plan or a set of guiding principles (Schneider, 1998), many universities begin their work in community service-learning (CSL) in an enthusiastic yet piecemeal fashion. While there are models available that provide a framework for beginning the strategic planning process (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Holland, 1997), the present paper goes one step further. By describing the design and implementation of a system-wide strategic plan in a multi-campus university system, this manuscript presents a process that has been effective at a wide variety of different campuses. We provide a how-to for enacting such a plan on individual campuses. The strategic plan described is highly generalizable to any campus or system that is beginning the process or that has already begun the process but does not have a systematic strategic plan to guide its efforts.

Developing the Strategic Plan

A 1994 California State University (CSU) survey indicated that 49% of CSU students reported over 28 million hours community service involvement, indicating strong commitments to the community. CSL provides a way to connect students' interest in serving the community with their academic endeavors. Recognizing this, representatives from each of the 22 campuses in the CSU gathered to discuss ways to more effectively implement CSL on each campus by sharing resources and information. During a year-long process, these discussions evolved into a collectively designed system-wide strategic plan that would be effective on rural as well as urban, large as well as small campuses (California State University, 1997). Thus, the strategic plan is maximally generalizable to a wide variety of universities across the country.

The plan established three priority goals for individual campuses, with specific steps to reach the goals over a five-year period. The following details each of the three goals, the related steps to implement the goal, and concrete examples of implementation methods.

Goal I: Institutionalization of CSL

The first goal is the institutionalization of CSL through the development of an infrastructure to support CSL. There are five steps designed to meet this goal.

Step 1: Create and support an office of CSL that provides assistance to faculty and students through facilitating meaningful community service placements and assisting in course development.

Most campuses started by designating an official CSL contact person who serves as the critical center of a CSL network that creates links on campus and within the community. One person can make a difference and is often the driving force behind the implementation of CSL on a campus (Schneider, 1998). For example, on one campus this person was a faculty member who as a community psychologist had a long-standing interest in community/university connections. She spearheaded efforts to obtain funding for a CSL center on the campus. This start-up person can be assisted by working with a small team of campus leaders to achieve campus goals (Robinson & Barnett, 1998). In our system most campuses have created offices that support CSL initiatives either through the auspices of academic affairs (43%), student affairs (38%) or through collaborations between academic and student affairs (19%). Consistent with national findings (Schneider, 1998), most campuses maintained open and cooperative collaborations between the two divisions even if curricular CSL and co-curricular community service programs were housed separately. CSL activities were often added as an additional responsibility of existing programs such as experiential education, instructional services, cooperative education, community outreach, or faculty development centers.

Step Two: Integrate CSL into the campus mission statement and strategic plan.

Eighteen of our campuses have succeeded in incorporating CSL either implicitly or explicitly into their mission statements or campus strategic plans. Clearly communicating the connection between CSL and the institution's mission is a key factor in the success of institutionalizing CSL (Holland, 1997). This important step requires the support of top level administrators who will help to guide, promote, and finance CSL initiatives (Schneider, 1998). One way to accomplish this is by beginning with smaller initiatives or position papers through academic senates or student senates that garner widespread campus support for the concept.

Step Three: Develop a campus strategic CSL plan.

Such a plan must have clear goals and a timeline to achieve them if it is to assist individual campuses in achieving goals within their own campus culture and mission. There will be wide variety in how each campus gains insights about curricular and community needs based on the implementation setting. Such planning is best done in as open and inclusive a process as possible, insuring the participation of both those who will be primarily responsible for implementing the plan as well as the major gatekeepers on the campus.

Step Four: Develop and administer an instrument to collect data about university and community needs and resources.

A needs assessment is a good initial step to assess the current level of CSL activities and requirements among faculty and students. When establishing a CSL program it is important to start with the "green light" people (Robinson & Barnett, 1998), those who already support your efforts and are likely to help you promote CSL among other faculty and administrators. A faculty survey allows you to identify such people quickly. A community needs assessment can provide valuable information about lapses in services in a particular catchment area or among a specific constituency. For a richer assessment, consider using some qualitative methods in addition to traditional quantitative methods of assessment. For example, one of our campuses conducted a community partner's forum to assess community needs. Such a face-to-face approach can go far in establishing new community partnerships and enriching existing relationships between the university and the community. Needs assessments allow you to pinpoint the needs in the area, which then helps you focus your limited resources at the same time as you are documenting the necessary service you are providing to your constituencies.

Step Five: Create an information management system that allows for efficient communication among university-community partners.

A general database of community partners that can be used for placement purposes isthe most common system used on our campuses. Often this database is shared among all offices on campus that deal with community service, fieldwork, experiential learning, outreach, departmental internships, or CSL. A more complex but equally crucial information management system can be developed to track how many courses and what types of courses have a CSL component, how many students have had a CSL experience, and how many student-hours the campus devotes to community service. Such systems can also be used to track individual student participation in CSL as part of campus requirements. Most of our campuses have developed CSL and/or service websites to provide up-to-date information on CSL networks and initiatives system-wide and across the nation; inform faculty, students and administrators about programs, conferences, funding opportunities, and literature available; and link discipline-specific faculty who share a common interest in CSL pedagogy. In addition, links can be established to connect the campus directly with neighborhood volunteer centers and to other CSL sites nationwide. Several campuses have also developed campus listservs to aid in communication among CSL faculty and to promote a network of interested campus faculty. One of our campuses is providing Internet accounts and web pages to community agencies that provide CSL placements for students. The infrastructures developed through Goal I create the foundation upon which the following goals rest.

Goal II: Build Faculty Support for CSL

It is crucial to develop a critical number of faculty members willing to engage in CSL, aid their colleagues in developing future CSL courses, and promote CSL on the campus. There are eight objectives designed to accomplish this goal.

Step One: Provide faculty training about experiential education in general, and CSL specifically.

It is crucial at the beginning stages to help faculty to distinguish among fieldwork, community service, co-curricular activities, and CSL. Our experience has been that once faculty recognize the fundamentally curricular nature of CSL and come to see it as an academically rigorous form of pedagogy, many objections fall by the wayside. Providing faculty with exemplars of students and faculty who have participated in CSL in their courses will generally instill enthusiasm among most faculty members. The first step is to provide continuous information in the form of brochures, flyers, and introductory and/or discipline-specific workshops. For beginning campuses, the use of off-campus CSL consultants or nationally known speakers has been an effective way of garnering faculty attention and building the confidence of on-campus presenters. It is important to provide competent hands-on assistance and support for faculty who express an interest in redesigning courses to include a CSL component. This is where other CSL faculty can be most useful since their actual classroom experience with the teaching method is generally highly valued by the CSL novice. Some of our campuses conduct information sessions at new faculty orientations or workshops specifically designed for new faculty since these new colleagues tend to be especially interested in CSL and other new pedagogies. Our campuses have successfully used informal, non-threatening, open-house style meetings, small brown bag lunches, and resource and information fairs.

Step Two: Provide curriculum development funds to assist faculty in developing CSL courses.

Most of our campuses have been able to offer some form of stipend, release time, travel to CSL conferences, or curriculum development mini-grants to assist faculty in designing or re-designing their syllabi. With the consistently heavy faculty workloads common to all campuses, faculty must be provided with incentives and rewards for taking on the additional workload engendered in such basic course revisions. Several of our campuses have partnered with faculty development centers, which can be sources of more consistent funding as well as experienced logistical and technical information about faculty learning. Some campuses grant faculty summer stipends to develop or re-develop CSL courses. Recipients are then asked to present a faculty workshop during the next academic year detailing the course development process and outcome, its challenges and rewards. In this way, CSL faculty can act as role models, instructors, and mentors for other faculty.

Step Three: Recognize faculty involvement in CSL in retention, tenure, and promotion (RTP) policies.

This step is absolutely crucial if CSL is to become institutionalized in academe, and yet it provides more challenges than any other component of the plan. We have established a system-wide advisory committee to aid in the development of model retention, tenure, and promotion (RTP) documents, yet few of our campuses have effectively dealt with this issue. As a first step, CSL practitioners need to let faculty know where to place CSL in their RTP document. It is important to differentiate CSL from community service and to recognize that CSL is an innovative pedagogical method. Thus while there is some variability across campuses, most faculty efforts in curriculum development for CSL will be included in the "teaching" category, rather than under "service." CSL research and publications are generally included under pedagogical "research." Some CSL activities may also fall under "service" since most faculty who are involved in CSL are also involved with community agencies either directly or indirectly. We have found that many very active CSL faculty members have not been rewarded for even the most extraordinary efforts because they have placed all of their accomplishments under "service," which tends to be the least valued component of most RTP documents. An examination of CSL in the hiring process should also occur to further support institutionalization. An expectation of CSL may be included in job descriptions where applicable. If faculty are not appropriately rewarded for CSL in the RTP and hiring processes, it will be difficult to maintain the gains we have already made.

Step Four: Create department-based incentives for faculty involvement.

Faculty are most involved in the work of their department and identify most with their discipline; thus, it is appropriate to connect CSL to specific departments and disciplines. CSL can be a core experience to mastering knowledge in most disciplines. If CSL is to be integrated in the RTP process, it needs to begin at the departmental level by providing incentives to departments to encourage development of CSL courses. Department chairs can play a critical role in supporting and recognizing their faculty's work in CSL.

Step Five: Provide campus awards for outstanding faculty and student involvement in CSL.

Other authors have also mentioned the importance of recognizing and celebrating sustained efforts in CSL (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Robinson & Barnett, 1998). Some strategies our campuses have used include creating awards for CSL; nominating faculty and students for national CSL awards; publicizing faculty accomplishments in campus publications and local newspapers; and providing a public forum for faculty to present their CSL research and teaching achievements. One campus is developing a joint award with the local chamber of commerce to acknowledge both the faculty member and the community partner. Most of these strategies cost virtually nothing to institute yet can have great meaning to faculty who have chosen to invest their limited time in developing CSL courses, activities, and policies for their students, campus, and community.

Step Six: Organize a CSL committee that includes strong faculty representation from colleges.

Fourteen of our campuses have successfully established a committee on CSL. Many of these committees are working committees, developing definitions and policies related to CSL, and serving as conduits of information about CSL initiatives that are taking place in the different colleges and departments. Some of the committees serve as planning and advisory committees to CSL centers, representing faculty, staff, and students from all colleges, as well as community partners. Members of the committee are often effective ambassadors for CSL across the campus and in the community.

Step Seven: Give regular reports about CSL to the academic senate and other campus bodies to enhance awareness.

This aspect of our work can lead to large gains in campus acceptance due to its direct contact with campus leaders who may affect future policies on CSL. Ask yourself what committee members need to be on-board with your CSL efforts and make a presentation to them. Most campuses have made presentations to the council of deans or vice presidents and provosts, academic and student senates, and academic programs and planning committees. It is important to keep curriculum committees involved in the discussion of CSL, as they are likely to be assigned to develop policy and procedures for CSL courses. Some campuses have worked with the curriculum committee to develop an "S" designation for all courses that meet specific CSL criteria.

Step Eight: Provide appropriate workload credit for designing and for offering CSL courses.

Faculty are adequately compensated through the usual mechanisms for teaching CSL courses, but we have not adequately addressed workload credit for designing the courses. As mentioned in step two, most compensation has come from small grants and stipends rather from course release credit for curriculum development. This is primarily a funding issue and one that campus CSL advisory committees, academic senates, unions, and administration must consider carefully in future planning efforts.

Goal III: Design Student and Community-Based Programs

It is important that any CSL program is developed with the needs of both the students and the community in mind, and the participation and leadership of students and community partners. Our strategic plan outlines eight steps designed to help meet this goal.

Step One: Involve students and community partners from the beginning in planning and developing CSL programs and policies.

Most of our campuses have gained student input by involving students systematically through appointments to committees or boards. Some CSL initiatives have been created directly from student-directed programs. Several campuses have adopted a student CSL scholars model, in which students serve as partners to CSL faculty in developing and implementing CSL courses. CSL scholars go through formal training about CSL pedagogy, best practices of community collaboration, leadership, and much more. Student government groups have been particularly supportive of CSL efforts through their ability to raise funds, develop resolutions in support of CSL, and ask for CSL courses.

Step Two: Establish community advisory panels to gain insights about community needs.

Community partners have limited time and resources; therefore, many campuses have developed ways to gain community insights about community needs in previously created structures so as not to overburden their community partners. In some cases campuses rely on input from faculty and administrators that sit on community agency boards. In other cases, campuses invite a small representative sample of community partners to sit on existing advisory boards. Finally, some campuses simply consult existing university advisory boards or alumni associations that already have community representation.

Step Three: Prepare student and community organization handbooks on CSL and other materials to engage student and community partners in CSL.

Most of our campuses have developed or are developing handbooks or manuals to provide concrete materials to help formalize processes, increase effective communication, and clarify roles and responsibilities to insure a smooth and successful experience for all involved. These materials illustrate the important role that both students and community partners have in CSL and provide direction for these constituents to become active, responsible partners.

Step Four: Develop ties with local K-12 schools for the development of CSL activities and programs.

Historically, schools of education have provided college students with a number of opportunities to engage in active learning at K-12 school sites. America Reads, the Pre-Collegiate Academic Development program, and Human Corps are examples of existing programs that create ties with local K-12 schools. On many campuses the challenge is to create a structure for CSL to operate within the menagerie of programs, collaborations, and initiatives that currently exist within K-12 settings. However, for a developing CSL campus, this is often the first or only place where systematic and effective community/university partnerships have been developed. Local school programs are an excellent place to begin to learn about community needs and processes so that partnerships outside the K-12 setting can be nurtured.

Step Five: Conduct workshops with community agencies and neighborhood groups to develop co-educational partnerships.

Campuses have offered many workshops, trainings, conferences, seminars, orientations, and volunteer-agency fairs in cooperation with community-based organizations. One campus held a two-day workshop where ten faculty, ten students, and eighteen community partners worked together on the curriculum for a core CSL course.

Step Six: Create CSL demonstration projects to engage faculty, student, and community collaboration.

This is an exciting opportunity to show the many ways that CSL can impact the community, address pressing community social issues, and enhance a student's learning experience. Through demonstration projects, CSL practitioners and participants can share with others the impact of the CSL experience. Demonstration projects help to build support outside of the "usual circles of support." One campus sponsored a "Six Days of Service" event around the same time as national Make A Difference Day. The "Six Days of Service" event celebrated the work of students and faculty in each college of the university and specific academic departments, and culminated in a cooperative off-campus CSL project open to everyone at the university.

Step Seven: Develop assessment techniques to evaluate partnership outcomes and disseminate findings among members of the university and general communities.

Most of our campuses have developed evaluation techniques that provide students, faculty, and community agencies with the opportunity to assess their experiences. Much is to be learned from both successful and unsuccessful partnerships; thus, it is necessary to systematize evaluation of CSL efforts in order to document our successes as well as correct our shortcomings and plan effectively for the future.

Step Eight: Work with campus student organizations to develop ways to increase faculty/student collaboration in addressing community challenges.

Most of the student organizations on our campuses are in some way involved in service activity. Significant work has been done with student government. For example, at one campus the student senate provided a student-owned cottage to house the CSL center. CSL is much enhanced by encouraging the active involvement of student organizations, fraternities and sororities, service clubs such as Circle K, honor societies such as Mortarboard, and discipline-based clubs.


We have presented a strategic plan with ties to the theory and literature of community service-learning, along with practical examples that are generalizable to any university. The emphasis here is on the power of having a collectively-designed plan, based on best practices of the field that allows information sharing and support among the practitioners who will implement the plan. In developing, implementing and assessing its strategic plan for community service-learning, the California State University has made tremendous strides to institutionalize community service-learning. Although there are areas in which we still have challenges, the concrete steps we have outlined in the plan, and the collaborative nature with which we approach our work, will enhance our successes in the future.


Bringle, R. G. & Hatcher, J. A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 29, 31-41.

California State University. (1997). Strategic Plan for Community Service Learning at the California State University. Long Beach, CA: CSU Chancellor's Office.

Holland, B. (1997). Analyzing institutional commitment to service: A model of key organizational factors. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 4, 30-41.

Robinson, G. & Barnett, L. (1998, March). Best practices in service learning: Building a national community college network, 1994-1997. AACC Project Brief

Schneider, M. K. (1998). Models of good practice from service-learning programs. AAHE Bulletin, 50(10), 9-12.

Dr. Rozee is a professor of psychology and women's studies, the Director of the Community Service Learning Center, and currently teaches two service learning courses at CSU Long Beach. <>. Erika Freihage Randall is the Director of Community Service Learning in the system-wide Chancellor's Office of the California State University. She has a master's degree in Education from Harvard University. <>.
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Author:Randall, Erika Freihage
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Next Article:Teaching Research with Service-Learning.

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