Service Learning and Leadership

Engaging students is critical for their academic success. Similarly, engaging the community is essential for the success of a community college. To promote engagement at all levels, Cumberland County College is committed to a culture of service that is based on direct interaction among students, staff, faculty and the larger community. Developing new and meaningful ways of involving all of these stakeholders in both campus and community activities is part of President Isekenegbe’s vision of CCC as a truly engaged institution.


There are two interconnected ways that the campus community can integrate academic instruction and experiential learning to encourage personal and professional growth as well as to increase community capacity. Service learning and leadership development programs are two components of a comprehensive strategy to responsively apply academic learning to community needs. Across the country, higher education has been challenged to broaden its mission of educating students for career advancement to educating the community in the leadership skills necessary for responsible citizenship. Accordingly, one of the roles of higher education is to provide the country with engaged citizens who understand the world in which they live and who have the tools necessary to fully participate in the democratic process.


Service Learning

Service learning weaves together classroom instruction and student service in a community partnership. Local needs are addressed while students simultaneously develop their academic skills and a commitment to the community. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) defines service learning as “combining community service with academic instruction, focusing on critical, reflective thinking and personal and civic responsibility.”


In 2006, the AACC initiated a three year program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Community Colleges Broadening Horizons through Service Learning. This grant funded project was designed to measure student learning outcomes at thirteen colleges implementing service learning. Results of the project have shown that service learning participants scored statistically higher than non-service learners overall, and in five out of the six individual learning outcome areas, including critical thinking, communication, career and teamwork, civic responsibility, and academic development and educational success. Service learning was, in fact, a predictor of student success.


For students, the benefits of service learning are an increased relevancy of coursework, increased use of logic and critical thinking, the development of character and leadership skills and self-confidence. Students are exposed to potential job opportunities and professional mentoring. From an academic standpoint, students who have participated in service learning have demonstrated an improved retention of academic content, and interestingly, an increased motivation for higher degree attainment. Not surprisingly, faculty have advised that students are more enthusiastic about learning when course content is relevant to the real world and offers direct connections to future opportunities.


Campus Compact is an alliance of over 1,100 college presidents committed to using higher education to produce engaged and knowledgeable students who are socially responsible citizens. It has been a leader in the service learning movement since its inception as a “scholarship of service.” In its annual membership survey in 2010, Campus Compact found that among its members the number of service learning courses offered has risen dramatically. Approximately 93% of its membership offered service learning courses, with an average of 7% of the faculty incorporating a service learning component into the course syllabi. It is one of the goals of CCC to officially join this alliance to further develop a comprehensive service learning program.


It seems that across the nation, a small number of faculty are teaching an ever growing number of service learning courses. In the community college sector, Raritan Valley Community College has been nationally recognized as one of the premier examples of integrating service learning into the fabric of the college. At Raritan, over 800 students are enrolled in service learning courses taught by 70 faculty members. These students have compiled more than 30,000 volunteer service hours for 250 non-profit organizations. Academic credit is provided for community service performed as part of coursework. Service learning is a requirement as well as an optional component across numerous disciplines in the curriculum.


Service learning supplements classroom learning by offering community experiences in the practical application of knowledge. It also supports the contemporary expectation of higher education to teach and model civic responsibility and engagement. Organized community service is essentially a practicum in civic participation and commitment to place which provides the foundation for active citizenship.


In that vein, an increasing number of campuses are creating learning centers under the banner of Civic Engagement Centers to implement service learning and other civic initiatives. In addition to the coordination of campus service learning opportunities, these centers offer the broader community as well as students body the opportunity to learn more about the true responsibilities inherent in citizenship, how and where to find accurate information and resources, and the core principles of public service.


Imagine expanding the Luciano Center for Public Service to include a Civic Engagement Center that linked students to nonprofit organizations needing volunteer assistance; or one that developed an introduction to service learning as part of all freshmen orientation courses. As a presidential election year beckons, voter registration can be a focal point for civic programming. Other centers around the country coordinate academic learning communities focused on community development; and provide speaker series featuring local leaders discussing the challenges of public service or offer citizen academies for community members interested in serving on boards or committees in their communities. Montclair State University even offers a new minor in Leadership Development through Civic Engagement.


Northwestern University hosts a campus-wide conference on civic engagement to encourage a robust dialogue on civic life and public service. This campus has also developed a fellowship program where student leaders are selected to work part time as liaisons to help students navigate existing service opportunities and to develop new partnerships with faculty and the community. With the physical facilities already available, CCC could develop an unlimited number of new partnerships and collaborations which would fit seamlessly with the programs already offered.


Curriculum already exists for encouraging effective public service. The Pew Partnership for Civic Change, a component of the Pew Foundation, has developed a civic engagement curriculum known as Leadership Plenty®. This nine module series can be instrumental in engaging community residents and developing problem solving skills critical for effective public service.


Leadership Development 

An alternate yet related form of engaged scholarship and active service in higher education is leadership development programs. In fact, many colleges now reference leadership as part of their mission. There is little agreement on a definition or on a theoretical paradigm to explain it, yet “leadership” is something highly valued and consistently sought by every institution, business, agency and organization. The unstable global, national, and regional economies and the flattening of budgets in both the public and private sectors have increased the value placed on strong leadership that can not only adapt to contemporary circumstances, but can creatively guide and direct the workforce to accept and attain common goals. While a consensus definition is unattainable, the common ground in defining leadership is an agreement that at its core, leadership is a teachable process that happens over time and intentionally influences or directs others.


Campus leadership programs take many forms, ranging from community-based learning and personal skill development for emerging and existing local leaders exemplified by Leadership Cumberland County; programs specifically designed for career advancement specifically within the community college setting, such as the Pathways Leadership Program; and student leadership development programs modeled by the Student Pathways Leadership Institute. Over the past two decades, these programs have been implemented at CCC as well as over 1,000 campuses across the nation based on the assumption that leadership characteristics, methods, and skills can, in fact, be taught as part of the higher education experience.


Cumberland County College is proud to be at the forefront of offering all of these types of leadership programs and has been challenged by President Isekenegbe to enhance and expand these programs and the partnerships that fuel them. The challenges within Cumberland County require capable and interconnected leaders with strong personal and professional networks. Work has begun on formulating the next phase of programming for over 200 Leadership Cumberland County alumni who are equipped to practice leadership by impacting the future direction of this region. Speaker series, book discussions, and programs specifically designed for executives new to the area are in the planning stages.


The College will look to capitalize on the pioneering work of entities such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) who recently collaborated to complete a comprehensive response to address a national community college leadership gap. This collaboration, known as Leading Forward, resulted in the identification of six core competencies needed for effective leadership in higher education: organizational strategy, resource management, communication, collaboration, advocacy, and professionalism. These core competencies form the foundation of CCC’s staff leadership development program, the Pathways Leadership Program.


Just as customized training provides for industry specific needs, leadership training is now valued as a professional development pathway for employees. Leadership training is necessary to create and sustain social and economic changes important to the communities and institutions that they serve. If leadership is in fact a teachable process, learning-centered institutions such as CCC have a direct role to play in its implementation.


In the academic context, leadership learning can be infused into existing curricula as well as being developed as an independent course of study. Leadership studies is a burgeoning phenomenon on college campuses, with certificate and degree programs commonplace at all levels of education. Leadership studies is one of the fastest growing fields in higher education, with credentials ranging from certificates to graduate degrees confirmed across the nation. New academic courses in leadership theory, skills and practices will be introduced over time at CCC. The National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programming, hosted by the University of Maryland, is the leading resource in academia, providing nearly unlimited access to national academic leadership programs.


Finally, leadership education for non-profit organizations is needed to help this sector become aware of opportunities for funding and collaborative problem-solving that can sustain their work. The college has the facilities and expertise to serve as the neutral convener for building the capacity of this sector. Nonprofit programming represents one of the best opportunities for the college to partner across the south jersey region with organizations such as the Community Foundation of South Jersey, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the William Penn Foundation.



Developing leadership skills and providing opportunities for classroom instruction to become alive through community service represent means of putting theory into practice; of moving companies and organizations from good to great; and for making decisions that can advance a compelling vision into a determined strategy. The college is uniquely situated to lead and engage the community in the scholarship of service through academic programming, leadership development and sustained community interaction. Teaching individual skills for the advancement of the community and developing a public side to a leadership and service curriculum offer unique potential for new community partnerships. In this way, Cumberland County College can honor its commitment to community service and simultaneously advance a greater public understanding of the role of the campus as an asset and resource.