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Research Articles

Vol. 24 No. 3

Did Federal Policy on Postsecondary Service-Learning Support Community Social Capital?

  • Thomas A. Dahan
February 10, 2020


Community social capital is an important mechanism for collective efficacy and civic engagement to address problems of public concern. This study contributes among the first national empirical measurements of the effects of service-learning on community social capital in communities that host engaged institutions and connects the higher education civic engagement movement to investigations of public policy. The paper investigates panel data from four periods spanning nearly 20 years for community social capital as measured by an index adapted from multiple indicators to investigate the effects of a federal policy supporting service-learning in higher education on that outcome. I use membership in the Campus Compact, a national organization of college and university presidents who commit their institutions to public and community service as a proxy for grantees of the service-learning policy and compare variation related to institutional members of the Campus Compact and the other postsecondary institutions in these communities. Results point to positive contributions of the engaged institutions consistent with a policy feedback mechanism followed by a modest decline in community social capital related to a structural break in the time series: the elimination of federal funding for service-learning through Learn and Serve America Higher Education in 2011.