Many students want to volunteer and serve their community just for the sake of doing good. But some institutes of higher ed are starting to reward these efforts with scholarships to sweeten the deal. Learn how one South Carolina university put this win-win idea into action.
In 2005, South Carolina’s Clemson University sold some land and earmarked an endowment to support service scholarships for students. They created a program, Community Scholars, to give students scholarship funds totaling about $3,000 each for their completion of 56 service hours per semester. The service can be done in almost any setting: on campus, in the community, in students’ hometowns during school breaks, or even abroad. The program also has an academic component, wherein students take four one-credit courses on different aspects of service.
How you can do it
Clemson University had two important things in place from the start—support and money—but a service scholarship program like this can be implemented at most universities, even under different circumstances.
Gather faculty and other staff who are passionate about volunteering. If they and the school do not value service, putting your program in place will be challenging.
Ensure the right people are in the room to discuss starting the program. Include student affairs staff, faculty, any service-oriented departments, and students to provide diverse perspectives. Facilitate a meeting with these people and use a needs assessment survey to help you decide what’s necessary to move forward (the University of Kansas’ Community Tool Box contains a great chapter all about needs assessments). Taking the time to make sure all aspects of the future program are thought through will make for a much better program down the road.
Decide how you want to structure the program. For starters, consider the following: What are you asking of students? What will they get for their time? How will they track and report their service? What will determine admission to your scholarship program? What could get a student dismissed? At Clemson, for example, the scholarship amount was originally based on the budget for the endowment, and the school settled on a three-to-four hour a week service requirement, reasoning that that would be doable for students with busy schedules but still enough time to provide meaningful connections and experiences for communities.
Dive into the details. Beyond the broad strokes of the program, you’ll want to consider where students can serve and if you’ll want to put restrictions or minimums on their time (for example, Clemson urges students to serve off campus). You also may need to think about things like insurance and when liability needs to be considered.
Consider implementing an academic component. While Clemson’s version used one-credit classes, yours could be different. Kathy and Susan suggest working with a committee, leaning on best practices, and considering what you want the arc of learning to be. Clemson wants students to have a broad understanding of different kinds of service, as well as of advocacy, activism, and global issues. But more than anything, Clemson’s academic component is meant to challenge traditional notions of service and open conversation between people about what service means.
Market your program. Karen and Susan find the most success in word of mouth, but they also advertise heavily on campus, particularly in places frequented by incoming students. Think about the best spots on your campus to spread the word.
What’s the best way to accept students? Looking at transcripts, resumes, and recommendations is important, but Clemson has found they need to interview students to get the best sense of them. This helps them pick the right kinds of students—those who are not only there for the scholarship money, but for service’s sake as well.
Consider how things will run day-to-day. The administration of Clemson’s program is undertaken in large part by their graduate assistant, who focuses on paperwork and working one-on-one and in groups with students. Clemson finds that having a “near peer” in this role—someone who is near the age of the participating students—makes a big positive difference.
Think about how you’ll measure success. At the end of a student’s service period, Kathy and Susan ask him or her to sit for an exit interview and brief evaluation of how the program shaped their attitudes about service, how they might serve in the future, etc.
Since 2005, 66 Community Scholars have participated or are currently in the program. As of Spring 2014, 38 scholars have graduated and contributed a combined 4,256 hours of community service.
Kathy and Susan believe that some of the program’s deepest impacts can be seen in how the experience shapes Scholars after college:
Recently, a LinkedIn group was formed for Scholar alumni and those associated with the student service program because it had been such an important part of their lives.
In their exit interviews, Scholars overwhelmingly reported how glad they were to have been a part of the program because it made them set aside time to do something they wanted to do, but might not have put the effort into otherwise. Many also said that serving their communities gave them a more nuanced idea of what they wanted to do professionally after graduating.
Kathy advises that your program be very specific to your student population. As higher education changes—as students want to graduate more quickly and begin working, and as more nontraditional and part-time students enroll, for example—your scholarship program should be a needs match.
Susan concurs and emphasizes the importance of a needs assessment to get the clearest idea of what you’ll need. She also says the right program includes a healthy balance of faculty and administrative guidance while being student-influenced.