What College Students Do for Their Local Communities

by | Nov 22, 2015 | Community Building

Today, I read an article by Jonathan Rothwell titled What colleges do for local economies: A direct measure based on consumption in which he uses survey data “to analyze how much people of different incomes and education levels spend on various good and services.”  Analyzing “if education is the cause of higher incomes, and higher incomes drive higher spending, then the causal effect of college education on consumption is approximately the difference in consumption between college attendees and non-attendees.”

According to Rothwell “…there is overwhelming evidence … that education causes higher earnings and the causal effect of college on earnings is close to the average difference in earning between college educated and high school educated workers.”

You may wonder why I am focusing on this research as it differs from my usual orientation to the sociological aspects of organizations, individuals and relationships.  So here is where I find Rothwell’s research interesting in that it focuses on consumption, something I rarely analyze, and allows me to share another view of the impacts of college participation.  To honor Rothwell he does acknowledge, “This should by no means be regarded as a comprehensive assessment of the public benefits to the economy of education.”

I want to move us from an economic analysis to analyzing the social contributions that college students make to their communities.  I spent over a decade of my career dedicated to engaging college and university students in service to their community from residence hall service to tutoring/mentoring programs in local P-12 schools to comprehensive cross-disciplinary service-learning projects.

While much attention is made to the contributions college and university students can make upon graduation, it is important to acknowledge the many contributions they make to their communities while they are students.  Here are some examples from my experience:

  • Computer science students providing assistance to community non-profits to create/enhance their web sites and social media presence, track volunteers and their experiences and connect social service workers with community networks;
  • Students from the Multicultural Center assisting local P-12 schools to translate Notices to Parents in multiple languages so that parents can understand the schools’ messages to them;
  • Education students designing, implementing and sustaining environmental education programs in partnership with local schools to engage P-12 students in salmon stream restoration;
  • Female and male varsity athletes volunteering in elementary schools to assist in student reading skill development;
  • Geography students, through their capstone projects, working with local municipalities to collect and analyze data on development, growth and density to assist them to make effective public policy;
  • Business students staffing the university’s Entrepreneur Center assisting new business owners to effectively structure, organize and fund their products and services; and
  • Native American students creating a mentoring programs for P-12 students on their reservation to enhance their academic, social and civic development as well as demonstrate the relevance of education to their lives.

These are but a few examples that I am familiar with and exist on campuses throughout the U.S.  According to Campus Compact, a coalition of 1,100 colleges and universities, over 1,800,000 students on their campuses are engaged in community engagement programs investing more than 6,600,000 hours to improve communities.  The majority of these experiences are service-learning, linking service to academic content.

Expanding beyond the members of Campus Compact the federal Corporation for National and Community Service indicates that about 3.1 million college students participate in community service activities.

Just think about the contribution these students investing these hours are making to their communities and imagine what they are learning about how to be an effective and efficient member of their communities now and in the future.

This is why I focus on student contributions during their time on campus rather than solely some of the economic benefits they contribute upon graduation.

By the way, to return to an economic analysis, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service the service contributions of college and university students translates into about $2.5 billion in economic value.  Therefore it is easy to make the case that there are both social and economic impacts of student service and engagement in their communities.

I encourage you to consider the many contributions college and university students make during their time on campus as they acquire/enhance their knowledge, increase their skills, prepare for their careers and establish a habit of engaging in meaningful service to their communities.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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