Skip to main content


To quote Joe Andy from Vanderbilt University:

"As is obvious from the variety of teaching models associated with “service learning,” the term is a label for a wide variety of community-oriented pedagogies throughout higher education.  Traditionally, the term, “service learning,” has been a more common label for these pedagogies and it is under this moniker that the practice has been institutionalized in the titles of higher education initiatives, centers, curricula, professional societies, conferences, journals and books.

However, the term “service” in “service learning” has received some criticism, particularly from supporters who regard the pedagogy as a potentially powerful force for both education and community development.  They have argued that the language of “service” can mislead students or faculty into relationships with communities that are not mutually beneficial, and thus work to reinforce stereotypes or inequalities.  Insofar as students regard themselves as “working for” and not “working with” a community “client,” they may see the community partner through paternalistic lenses.  At its worst, this may limit a community’s voice, limit the effectiveness of community-based projects, and reinforce campus-community inequalities.[5]

Because of this, USU has chosen to use the language "Community-Engagement" to better reflect our partnership with the community, and not just what we give to the community.

No one term transcends all limitations or is innocent of criticism.  Further, many who continue to use the term, “service learning,” do so largely because of its continuing prominence in the field of education and endeavor to debate and overcome the limitations of the word “service.”  Also, its defenders state that “service” emphasizes community action through good works, while other terms may promote merely experiences of, rather than work with, a community.  Thus there is more commonality among these terms than may sometimes be apparent in debates within the field.  Indeed, practitioners who use each of these terms generally seek to fulfill Ernest Boyer’s ideal that “…the academy must become a more vigorous partner in the search for answers to our most pressing social, civic, economic, and moral problems.”[8]