Promoting Inclusive Access and Success
through Community Engagement
By Julie Plaut, program manager for academic
initiatives, Campus Compact; and JoAnn Campbell, associate
director, Minnesota Campus Compact
Citizen-Scholar fellows participate in the
Fall 2007 Multicultural Kickoff at the University
(Photo by Dan Simonet)
Many higher education institutions support service
learning and community engagement programs as a means
of promoting students’ civic development and academic
success. Yet engagement initiatives also represent a
promising strategy for reducing disparities in educational
attainment. College students who participate in high-quality
community engagement programs experience a wide range
of benefits: increased interaction with faculty and
peers, opportunities for reflection, more meaningful
learning, and an enhanced sense of belonging. These
benefits apply to all students, but the National Survey
of Student Engagement has suggested that “historically
underserved students benefit more from engaging in these
activities than white students in terms of earning higher
grades and persisting to the second year of college”
(Kuh et al. 2007). When community engagement initiatives
link college and K-12 students, they can extend these
benefits to younger students as well, improving their
academic preparation and aspirations by connecting them
with older role models.
The reasons to increase students’ access to civic
and community engagement programs are thus multiple
and compelling. But in order to create educational environments
in which a diverse student population thrives, institutions
must address financial and cultural barriers to participation.
The Midwest Campus Compact Citizen-Scholar Fellowship
Program illustrates the potential for such initiatives
to have lasting effects for low-income, first-generation,
and future college students, many of whom are students
of color. The program and related efforts also enrich
engagement initiatives by respecting and incorporating
the valuable views of students whose identities and
experiences encompass multiple traditions of service,
community, and justice-seeking.
The Citizen-Scholar Fellowship Program
The Citizen-Scholar Fellowship Program is a ten-state
initiative coordinated by Wisconsin Campus Compact.
Through this program, student teams work together as
agents of civic change in their local communities and
campuses. Mentored by a campus faculty or staff member,
cohorts of seven or more students on each campus provide
each other with support as they collaborate on community-based
|Additional Resources on Community Engagement and Retention
on connections between community engagement and
college success includes:
- Astin, A., L. J. Vogelsgang, E. K. Ikeda,
and J. A. Yee. 2000. How service learning
affects students, Los Angeles: Higher Education
Research Institute, UCLA.
- Axsom, T., and W. E. Piland. 1999. Effects
of service learning on student retention and
success. NSEE quarterly. 24 (3), 15-19.
- Gallini, S. M., and B. E. Moely. 2003. Service-learning
and engagement, academic challenge, and retention.
Michigan journal of community service learning.
10 (1), 5-14.
- Keup, J. R. 2005. The impact of curricular
interventions on intended second-year enrollment.
Journal of college student retention, 7
(1- 2), 61-89.
- Kuh, G. D., J. Kinzie, J. H. Schuh, and E.
J. Whitt. 2005. Student success in college:
Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco:
For Campus Compact’s overview of this literature,
—Julie Plaut and JoAnn Campbell
Each fellow in the program devotes at least 300 hours
during the year to service. Those in Minnesota use part
of that time to conduct inquiry projects designed to
inform their institutions about students’ perspectives
on campus culture and other factors in student success.
In exchange for their service, each participant receives
a $1,000 AmeriCorps education award to use toward tuition
or other educational expenses. In many cases, participants
also earn Federal Work-Study wages for their service.
Students not only provide potentially transformative
assistance to their on- and off-campus communities,
but discover opportunities for self-transformation as
Last year the forty fellows at the University of Minnesota–Twin
Cities served as literacy tutors in local schools and
interviewed students from their own high schools about
their future college plans. After reflecting on these
interactions and their own experiences as students,
many fellows reported seeing themselves through a new
lens. They gained the confidence to recognize and value
their own successes as university students. We think
the exercise edged them toward developing what outreach
leaders at UCLA have identified as one key to college
success: “a multicultural, college-going identity—confidence
and skills to negotiate college without sacrificing
one’s own identity and connections with one’s
home community” (Oakes et al. 2002).
Through their ongoing involvement in the schools, the
fellows aim to model that confidence to high school
students who might themselves become college applicants,
while simultaneously passing on much-needed college
preparation skills. Because writing skills are key to
the transition from high school to college, this year’s
fellows have focused on improving high school students’
writing abilities. To that end, they have incorporated
writing preparation activities in the tutoring they
provide in local schools, and they emphasize writing
skills when they speak with high school students visiting
the college campus. At the end of the semester, these
students will present recommendations for improved services
to leaders on campus, including the directors of the
writing and tutoring centers. In sum, these students’
community engagement has done more than advance their
own academic success. It has also given students the
tools to pass along their new advantages.
Inclusive Practices, Positive Results
The program’s results are promising. Almost five
hundred fellows enrolled in the first year, and 87 percent
of those who completed the program returned to their
institutions, compared with 68 percent of all Pell Grant
recipients at the same campuses. Participants also earned
an average GPA of 3.11, much higher than the average
Pell Grant recipient’s GPA of 2.86. Based on this
demonstrated success, the Corporation for National and
Community Service has renewed annual funding for 600
fellows, committing the financial support needed to
advance this work.
Campus Compact has encouraged program coordinators
at participating colleges and universities to integrate
the fellows into their overall leadership structures
for civic and community engagement. In part, this reflects
a response to Vincent Tinto’s caution not to isolate
students who face challenging transitions in the process
of creating “safe space” for them (Tinto,
2004). It is also a strategy to help campuses build
their capacity to support engagement programs that are
accessible and hospitable to students of all backgrounds,
and that effectively prepare all students to contribute
to public life in a diverse democracy.
Fostering more “inclusive and diverse”
campus communities is, as George Sanchez has compellingly
asserted, an essential step for higher education “to
fulfill its rhetoric concerning civic responsibility”
(2005). As the example of the Citizen-Scholar Fellowship
Program suggests, by intentionally connecting civic
and community engagement with college access and success
efforts, educators can advance higher education’s
educational and civic missions, enhancing outcomes for
both students and communities.
For more information on the Midwest Campus Compact
Citizen-Scholars Fellowship Program, see www.m3cfellows.org.
Kuh, G. D., J, kinzie, T. Cruce, R. Shoup, and R.M.
Gonyea. 2007. Connecting the dots: Multi-faceted
analyses of the relationships between student engagement
results from the NSSE, and the institutional practices
and conditions that foster student success. Bloomington,
IN: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.
Oakes, J., J. Rogers, M. Lipton, and E. Morrell. 2002.
The social construction of college access: Confronting
the technical, cultural, and political barriers to low-income
students of color. In Increasing access to college,
ed. W. G. Tierney and L. S. Hagedorn, 108-9. Albany,
NY: State University of New York Press.
Sanchez, G. J. 2005. The tangled web of diversity and
democracy. Imagining America, foreseeable futures
Tinto, V. July 2004. Student retention and graduation:
Facing the truth, living with the consequences. The
Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher
Education, Occasional Paper No. 1.