What is Service-Learning?

Community-engaged pedagogies intertwine community experiences, academic concepts, and critical reflection through integrative learning and thereby provide a unique opportunity to advance Duke’s mission of “transformative experiences that disrupt default ways of seeing, thinking, and doing” (“Duke University Strategy”, 2022, p. 25). Duke supports a rich network of virtual and in-person community-engaged opportunities that include: curricular and co-curricular programs, technical and cultural experiences, undergraduate research, and student organizations. Duke Service-Learning’s primary mission is to support faculty in their goals for transformative student learning in the context of community. In service-learning and community-engaged (SLCE) courses, faculty and students deepen critical consciousness about our local and global communities by engaging in critical reflection that connects course content to the SLCE experience.  

54 faculty, 39 academic units, 99 courses taught, 6 languages and 1473 total students
2022-2023 By the Numbers

In 2023, Duke University was ranked #3 in the nation among national service-learning programs (US News & World Report). Quality courses across disciplines resulted in 40% of Duke 2023 graduates completing at least one SLCE course during their undergraduate career. In 2022-2023, the Duke Service-Learning team supported 54 faculty and 1473 students within 99 courses taught. Of note is that over 200 students enrolled in more than one service-learning or community-engaged course. Providing our students with opportunities to integrate work across disciplines and to think deeply about the intersectionality underlying many of our social challenges, the courses span 39 academic units from Trinity College (including the Global Health Institute, Kenan Institute of Ethics, Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy) and Pratt School of Engineering and were taught in six languages, including English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Hindi, and Chinese.  

Service-learning and community-engaged experiences span academic, personal, and civic dimensions of students’ learning outcomes and when done well, allow the student to integrate learning across multiple experiences resulting in a more transformative experience. (Cress et al., 2023) The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) identifies service-learning and community-based learning as high-impact practices (HIPs) known to have significant educational and developmental benefits to students. (Kuh, 2008) Duke incorporates these HIPs into many aspects of the college experience. A recent report from The AAC&U, The Effects of Community-Based and Civic Engagement in Higher Education: What We Know and Questions that Remain (Chittum et al., 2022), reviews positive outcomes of community-based pedagogies in these areas: 

  • increased personal and social responsibility 
  • development of positive mindsets and dispositions 
  • improved graduation and retention rates 
  • learning gains 
  • improved intellectual and practical skills 
  • increased career-related skills 

Bringle (2017) states that service-learning offers three key elements to integrate high-impact educational practices: reflection, partnerships, and diversity. The partnerships and diversity allow students to explore their sense of belonging and adaptability both on and off campus. These key elements work well within the essential features of a liberal arts education such as epistemic humility and interpreting evidence. Community-engaged pedagogy provides students with opportunities to examine multiple perspectives and to apply theory to the real-world.  

The AAC&U and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) contend that simple participation in high impact practices does not necessarily result in learning for undergraduates. Transformative and highly engaged experiences require what Kuh et al. (2013) define as quality dimensions and include high expectations of undergraduate performance, intensity and duration, experiences with diversity (where students are exposed to and must connect with people and circumstances that differ from those with which the student is familiar), and structured opportunities to reflect and integrate learning. Further, opportunities to discover relevance of learning through real-world applications and public demonstration of learning are critical to student engagement outcomes. Evidence suggests that exposure to multiple high quality, high impact practices increases the likelihood of an engaged, transformative undergraduate experience. (Chittum, et al., 2022)   


Bringle, R. G. (2017). “Hybrid High-Impact Pedagogies: Integrating Service-Learning with Three Other High-Impact Pedagogies.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 24, no. 1: 49-63. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3998/mjcsloa.3239521.0024.105 

Chittum, J. R., Enke, K. A. E., & Finley, A. P. (2022). The effects of community-based and civic engagement in higher education. American Association of Colleges and Universities. 

Cress, C.M., Stokamer, S. T., Van Cleave, T.J., Kaufman, J.P. (2023). Faculty Service-Learning Guidebook: Enacting Equity-Centered Teaching, Partnership, and Scholarship. Sterling, VA: Stylus.