Without A Trace

Institutional scholarships no longer require Service Learning

The growing void of poor communication practices at Laramie County Community College—seemingly at random—swallows feedback on policy changes, suggestions for improvements to college leadership and its latest victim: Service Learning requirements.

We at Wingspan feel strongly about Service Learning; after all, it is in the spirit of improving the community by publishing a student newspaper, we strive to keep the community informed. So we were shocked when we learned the 10-hour-a-semester Service Learning requirement for LCCC’s institutional scholarships had vanished without any campuswide communication, vanished without a trace. Where was the Amber Alert when Service Learning requirements went missing?   

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) defined Service Learning as the combination of community service with academic instruction, focusing on critical and reflective thinking as well as personal and civic responsibility.

The point of establishing a Service Learning program at LCCC was to change its culture from one of taking to one of giving, said Jeri Griego, LCCC accounting and business instructor and Service Learning program coordinator. Griego added she was not informed of the changes to Service Learning requirements.

Changes in administration ignore Service Learning

The upper level administrative turnover has been so significant during the past three years that it seems prior ideas, cultures and, in the case of Service Learning, programs have been ignored.

Wingspan believes it is the act of returning a measure of appreciation to the community that cements a student’s understanding of civic duty. We feel this team-building instructional strategy increases student retention of academic content. It serves to make college about more than just academics and helps students walk into the world with well-rounded experiences.

Recently, the Laramie County community has voted to raise its property taxes to pay in part for additional buildings on campus that will benefit students for generations to come. It is not enough merely to thank the residents for their support and to continue as if we owe them nothing in return. Wingspan believes the civic engagement provided by Service Learning gives students a more complete understanding of a citizen’s duties to his country and community. If the residents of Laramie County are willing to help foot the bill for LCCC’s campus, it seems ethical to ensure LCCC is taking every step to repay the debt.  

Instead, the administration appears willing to toss aside Service Learning without communicating with those it relies upon to coordinate the program.

In 2007, LCCC received a one-time, three-year Service Learning grant from the AACC, and by 2008 students on institutional scholarships were required to participate in 10 hours of Service Learning for each semester they received the scholarship, Griego said.

Under the grant, Griego could use AmeriCorps workers and could schedule Saturdays of Service. Because LCCC performed so well under the grant compared to other colleges, LCCC received additional grant funds reallocated from those other institutions, she said.
Since 2010 when the grant ended, the Service Learning budget has dwindled, and Griego can no longer afford to hire student assistants to coordinate projects or fund events like the Saturdays of Service. “We are not prioritizing Service Learning as much as we once did,” Griego said. 

Vito Milatzo, financial aid technician, said student services leadership looked at dropping the requirement during the 2011-2012 academic year, and the requirement went missing in the 2012-2013 academic year when LCCC switched from the Golden Eagle scholarship system to the current presidential and dean’s scholarship program. Milatzo called it an effort simply to streamline the scholarships.

From the outside looking in, it seems if LCCC receives grant money, it will require its students to give back to the community, but if those funds dry up, so does the requirement and the college’s commitment to the community.

Service Learning can make class-work helpful

Why is Service Learning so important? Isn’t learning the text enough?

No, Service Learning can help information presented in class become more helpful and relevant by applying that information to real-world situations in a community setting.

Service Learning is a hands-on approach to learning that puts faces to the issues of the community. Students gain a competitive edge in the job market with Service Learning on their résumés as well as an increased sense of self-awareness, self-confidence and pride in their contributions to the college and the community, the AACC reported.

Several areas of campus life still include elements of Service Learning. LCCC’s dental hygiene program works with the “Give kids a smile” program, Head Start and Special Olympics Wyoming as on-the-job training in a field that cannot be taught solely through PowerPoint and paperwork.

The food pantry is operated by human services students and volunteers who can then transfer their experience to future careers in the social services field. Service Learning is required for student organizations seeking funding from the Student Fee Allocation Committee (SFAC).

LCCC’s sports teams meet their 20-hour a semester Service Learning requirement with activities such as soccer camps for kids. The desktop publishing course creates brochures for various nonprofit organizations throughout the community. In 2013, computer graphics’ students created logos in a competition to have their brand selected for the food pantry.

The Art Student Union has visited Whispering Chase retirement community to draw and paint with the residents. Business management students design a project that integrates all the functions of management: planning, leading and organizing.

Coordinator explains the importance of Service Learning

“[Service Learning] is not just about volunteering for X number of hours. It’s about planning a project and reflecting on what was gained,” Griego said.

So, if Service Learning can help a student learn how to transfer and apply academic learning to life beyond college, why is the college no longer requiring those it deems worthy of scholarships to give time back to the community?

Griego said college isn’t always about just learning content, and Wingspan agrees.

If the college truly supports a student-success agenda, as President Joe Schaffer outlined in his guidelines of student success to the Board of Trustees Jan. 24, then surely Service Learning should be part of that agenda. But Service Learning has gone missing without a trace.

The alarm never sounded. A search party was never formed. By the time anyone realized Service Learning requirements were gone, it was already a cold case.