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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Journal Review III: The Impact of Academic Service Learning on Community College Students







Student Name

An assignment

submitted in partial fulfillment

                                                            of the requirements for

DH 1400 Dental Hygiene Theory II

Salt Lake Community College

April 22, 2020



The Impact of Academic Service Learning on Community College Students


Sharon S. Ellerton, Sandy Figueroa, Peter Fiume, Debra Greenwood


Service learning has been an essential part of getting a well-rounded education. “Colleges and universities, including urban and rural as well as two- and four-year institutions, consistently recognize CE (civic engagement) as a basic indicator of student success” (Ellerton, Figueroa, Fiume & Greenwood, 2016, p.2). The importance of having service learning incorporated within schooling provides students with a non-traditional way of learning. Numerous educational benefits have been attributed to service learning. For example, higher grades, higher retention rates, empathy, and cultural competence (Ellerton et al., 2016).

Apparently, community involvement and service learning leads to better educational outcomes. As students volunteer their time and skills in the community, they are exposed to a learning environment similar to where they will practice their professional careers. However, there are questions regarding appropriate times to include service learning in a student’s educational curriculum.


The purpose of this study was to see if there was a significant difference between having academic service learning as part of a college education compared to not having service learning. There are already similar studies at higher baccalaureate-providing institutes with positive results, but this study investigated a different population: service learning in community colleges (Ellerton et al., 2016).


This study took place at the City University of New York. It was a study on four community college campus locations within the City University and its relation to service learning. Twelve faculty members, three per campus, required their students to participate in a service learning project within a designated course. All courses had at least two sections; one was designated as the control group and the other was the experimental group. Students in the control group were not assigned a service learning project. The group was used as a base line for comparison. Experimental group students were assigned a mandatory service learning project. Two hundred and forty-three students were included in this study: 155 service learning students in the experimental group and 88 students in the control group without service learning. A variable number of service learning opportunities were available and related to the course type.

Pre and post course surveys were administered to gather both quantitative and qualitative data from the control and experimental student groups. The surveys were comprised of various questions relative to each group’s type of course learning. Surveys for both groups included open ended questions which allowed researchers to draw inferences regarding the subject of service learning. The pre and post surveys were compared to see if there were any changes in students’ feelings, attitudes, and the understanding of the subject matter. At the end of the study, the comparison of the results provided many insights to this study.


The reliability of this study was dependent on the twelve total faculty who had both experimental and control groups, as well as the students’ choice of participation in the surveys. “There were fewer responses among the service-learners and non-service- learners for the post-test. This could be due to a combination of factors such as students being absent the day the instrument was administered, or students dropping the course” (Ellerton et al., 2016, p.12). The article mentioned a few errors that may have occurred, leading to a difference in the data. The post survey that was conducted at the end of the course was given only on one day. If a student did not show up, the data would be missed from that student.

The faculty who participated in the study were trained on two research protocols to prevent external factors from occurring. The twelve faculty that were assigned to this study were all certified in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) and in the Human Subject Research (HSR) protocols (Ellerton et al., 2016). Having faculty certified with the RCR and HSR standardized the service learning portion of the study. Calibration of the faculty members reduced threats of bias to this research.

End results could have been influenced due to randomization of the students, which possibly led to having more students in one course who were more outgoing, willing to learn, and positive about service learning than the other group. Questions like “How comfortable is it for you to make a presentation in front of a class or speak in public?” (Ellerton, 2016, p.15) was an example of a question on the survey that seemed to be influenced by the students’ personality rather than having participated in the service learning activity. Surveys still yield valuable information, but are based on opinions and the truthfulness of the student, which is not factual-based evidence.


In general, this information was taken only from a certain population of students attending the City University of New York Community Colleges. Other community college students were not represented, therefore, the data collected may not be applicable to other schools in other regions. The results of this experiment were true to only a specific college, the City University of New York.

The qualitative data collected by the study showed bias. The students were not required to participate in the survey. Only the students who wanted to participate had given the study some data, but this limited the results to students who volunteered to answer. The article failed to mention how many people did not participate in the post survey.

The courses selected were randomized, making the participants randomized. But, the faculty were not blinded. They had to decide amongst themselves which course was the experimental group and which was the control group. This could have led to bias which may have been reflected in the results of this experiment.


The results of the pre survey revealed no difference between both experimental and control groups. Both control group and experimental group students began with similar opinions of service learning. This was expected, as the survey was administered before any service learning had occurred. The pre survey was used to establish a baseline of study data.

After the post survey was given, the data collected revealed a difference between the two groups. The article mentioned: “In general, post-survey means were higher among the service-learners as compared to non-service-learners. Service-learners indicated that their sense of self included a commitment to others; they were more aware of opportunities for civic engagement and understood its importance and were more likely to volunteer in the future” (Ellerton et al., 2016, p.13).

The post survey students in the experimental group had mentioned a gain in skills, while the control group remained neutral. The article stated: “The only significant univariate main effect was for the item “How likely are you to volunteer in your community in the next twelve months”? The service-learners were significantly more likely than the non-service-learners to state that they would volunteer in the next twelve months” (Ellerton et al., 2016, p.14). In the students’ post surveys, they wrote that they felt more comfortable socially from the experimental group’s service learning and were more willing to provide these services in the future.

According to the p-values, the most significant difference were relative to college skills and community involvement. Questions with the largest p-values included: “Likely to volunteer in my community in the next 12 months” and “Aware of opportunities for community involvement”, as well as noted that the p-values were considered significant if it were <.01 for College Skills and <.001 for “Community Involvement” (Ellerton et al., 2016).

For the experimental group, the students had an option to response to open-ended questions about their service learning activities. Many of the students expressed positive sentiments about their service learning. Some commented on how it helped them understand the subject, its importance to education, and having gained information and the overall experience was different than learning from a book (Ellerton et al., 2016). Not only was it observable to the students themselves, but the faculty noticed a change. They saw that involvement in the service learning projects was a great addition to their course, because it helped the students understand the topic more in-depth and also got the students involved in society. In conclusion, service learning projects helped students realize that service learning was not just another assignment to do, but instead, service learning was an opportunity to gain extra skills for their futures.


This study confirmed the idea that service learning for students at the City University, was a benefit to student learning and experience. Although all the results of the study were strictly determined by the surveys of students, it was observable to the faculty of the impact that this type of learning experience could give.

Community colleges may not offer similar education as higher end universities, but service learning is what really brings knowledge to the students. It is based off of the individual and their willingness to learn. Offering service learning in colleges would help students get a feel of what their futures would be like. It is a motivator, which helps the community with their participation and given all the possible benefits like social skills, it can create a greater understanding of society.      

Insights Gained

This article expressed the importance of including service learning in schools. Service learning can help students have hands on experience, gain a better idea of how textbook learning is in real life, and helps improve interactions with people with other cultural backgrounds and living situations. Although the results of this study were not very significant with its p-value out of the range of less than .05, it gave a general idea of the benefits of service learning. Given the opportunities, community college students may find themselves wanting to serve the community.


This study is significant to dental hygiene, because hygienists are often required to provide community service. Given the opportunities, many find service learning beneficial in maintaining or improving their skills and technique. Providing service learning is not only a learning opportunity to the hygienists, but it is a chance to learn about the community, interact with new people, and help others in need.

Service Learning at Salt Lake Community College

Service learning is a critical component of the Dental Hygiene Program at Salt Lake Community College. Opportunities for service learning are included in college curriculums for several reasons. One reason for service learning is the ability for a different way of learning. As this study showed, students were gaining knowledge not only from the textbook, but from service learning opportunities. These volunteering opportunities provided more knowledge that would be applicable to their futures. Instead of learning only from the textbooks, a chance to provide some services could help improve technical and social skills with experience and interactions. In fact, service learning is often looked at as a positive experience among the students.

Another reason for service learning at the community college is the ability to provide to different populations. Community colleges are often looked at as a lower end of education compared to universities that have baccalaureate programs. But with this study, it showed that any community service could benefit the students. Benefits are not only relative to education, but as a way to provide for the community. Some patients may not have the chance to visit a dental office, but service learning offers a way to help others, as well as educate the students.

Lastly, students at the Salt Lake Community College have indirectly learned more about dental hygiene while providing at service learning locations. This article provided some insights on how learning was affected when students were volunteering. While feeling the need to provide adequate services, students worked harder to learn the subject and better themselves to do their best in society. In the end, all the service learning activities were going to be relative to their futures careers.


Ellerton, S., Figueroa, S., Greenwood, D., & Fiume, P. (2016) The impact of academic service     learning on community college students.” Journal for Civic Commitment, 24, 1-23.

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