Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor: Civic Engagement and Student Success: A Resonant Relationship

Consider crew, one of the oldest sports in American higher education. In crew, a group of rowers adopts a shared rhythm to propel themselves, collectively, forward. With each coordinated stroke, their boat picks up speed until it reaches a critical balance between the rowers’ energy and the water’s resistance. When the rowers coordinate their strengths and movements, they gain velocity, accomplishment, recognition, community, and maybe even a sense of euphoria. In succeeding by a variety of measures, they form the basis of future success, both individually and as a group.

Students’ participation in civic engagement activities can have similar impacts—on them, on their institutions, and on their communities. Through well-crafted curricular and cocurricular opportunities, students are often able to establish a resonant rhythm for success by engaging with the world around them. As illustrated by the recent report A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future (www.aacu.org/resources/civic-learning), practitioners define civically engaged learning opportunities in a wide variety of ways. But they generally agree that, when done well, such opportunities are linked to a range of positive—and mutually amplifying—factors.

This issue of Diversity & Democracy showcases research that substantiates the connections between civically engaged learning and various positive impacts related to student success, defined broadly. These include traditional outcomes (such as grade point average and graduation rates), as well as measures of more recent national concern (such as learning outcomes, preparation for employment, and personal well-being). Contributing authors summarize research tying specific outcomes to civic engagement and provide recommendations for campus practitioners. They describe programs that align student and community success, and elucidate connections between desired learning outcomes and engagement with diversity. They share practical applications and testify to how a sense of civic responsibility drove their own and their students’ academic accomplishments. Collectively and individually, their work makes a strong case for the resonant relationship between civic engagement and student success.

Our authors also suggest changes that civically engaged practitioners and their students can effect by bringing their work to scale. By moving programs and strategies from scattered and piecemeal to coordinated and pervasive, educators, students, and community partners can multiply the proven positive effects of civic engagement across students and communities. Like rowers building momentum in a communal vessel, they can help propel higher education—and America’s diverse democracy—forward to success in the twenty-first century.

Kathryn Peltier Campbell is editor of Diversity & Democracy.


Previous Issues