Service Learning Enhances Retention Rates of WSU Undergraduates, Especially Vulnerable Sub-populations

Primary author: Ben Calabretta
Co-author(s): Paul Verrell; Lisa Carloye; Michael Cleveland; Jessica Perone
Melanie Brown

Primary college/unit: Center for Civic Engagement (Student Affairs)
Campus: Pullman


Service-learning can help students connect with peers and the community at large and influence academic success and retention. BIO 102 enrolls about 1200 students annually, mostly first-year students, thus providing opportunity for a controlled study of the effects of service learning on academic success and retention. The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) partnered with Biology 102 in AY18 and AY19, with half of the lab sections incorporating service-learning experiences – structured community-based projects organized by the CCE, including orientation and reflection – while the other half proceeded with the traditional curriculum. Statistical analysis comparing overall grade earned in BIO 102, overall GPA, and retention to the subsequent academic year between the randomly assigned control and CCE groups showed a single service -earning experience improves both grades and retention. Comparisons were performed separately for each of four cohorts: Fall 2017 (N=599), Spring 2018 (N=418), Fall 2018 (N=701), Spring 2019 (N=446). Service-learning students had significantly higher grades for BIO 102 among three of the four cohorts (p<0.05). The service-learning group also had significantly higher overall GPA during the semester they took the class among three of the four cohorts (p<0.05). Additionally, higher retention rates of students who completed service-learning projects was seen for the Fall 2017 (81% versus 75%, respectively) and Spring 2019 (91% versus 86%, respectively) cohorts. These differences were especially pronounced among vulnerable sub-populations of First-Gen and underserved minority students. Following these students longitudinally to graduation would provide insight into longer-term benefits of service-learning.