BATON ROUGE – While top level state officials and national higher education experts contemplated the future of Louisiana’s postsecondary education on Monday, the University of Louisiana System celebrated the impact of almost 80 service projects funded by a national grant at its fourth annual conference on service-learning. Scheduled several weeks before a date was set for the Postsecondary Education Review Commission meeting, the annual conference titled Eight Universities Strong in Service showcased presentations from faculty, staff and students as well as a panel of university presidents.
“Universities play a larger role than simply producing degrees and meeting workforce demands. We’re responsible for educating the whole student,” said Grambling State University President Horace Judson. “If Grambling confers a degree but the student doesn’t leave with a sense of civic responsibility then we have failed.”
Judson joined Northwestern State University President Randy Webb, Southeastern Louisiana University President John Crain and University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie for a panel discussion on service-learning. Over 150 people attended the fourth annual conference from the eight UL System schools, as well as representatives from Louisiana State University, River Parishes Community College and Louisiana Campus Compact. Keynote speaker Stephen Black from Impact Alabama complimented the faculty and staff of the UL System for undertaking an impressive, diverse set of service-learning initiatives. “You are demonstrating an important connectedness to community and as such are regional stewards,” said Black. “The UL System has set an excellent example for others to follow.”
In 2006, the UL System was awarded a three year, $1.2 million grant from the Corporation for National Community Service’s Learn and Serve America division to develop service-learning programs to address hurricane recovery and disaster preparedness. To date, the ULS Serves initiative has funded 79 projects resulting in 115,000 service hours by 13,500 college students, over 800 faculty and staff members, 1,400 adult volunteers and over 300 community partners. Many projects are still in-process including nine mentoring programs recently developed in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Education to link 400 college student mentors with 1,000 at-risk K-12 students.
“I’m a convert,” said Northwestern’s President Randy Webb. “A few years ago, I did not have a thorough understanding of what service-learning added to the university. We’ve now seen the positive impacts on my campus and throughout the community thanks to the ULS Serves initiative.”
During the presidents’ panel, conference attendees expressed concern for the viability of maintaining service-learning programs in the face of budget cuts to colleges and universities with one audience member asking how service measures up to research and workforce development in the state’s funding goals.
“Research shows the positive impacts service-learning has on student retention and grade attainment, all things that enhance the university’s performance,” said UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie. “That is one of the reasons why UL Lafayette has been a long-time supporter of service and is now working to infuse a service-learning component into its faculty tenure and promotion review process.”
“As a form of experiential learning, service-learning is another tool our faculty can use to enhance teaching effectiveness. Service also links our institutions and students with the communities we serve, something that is critically important to the mission of regional universities. In good financial times or bad, we have to prioritize activities that support our mission,” said Southeastern President John Crain.
At Monday’s conference the UL System released a report on its service-learning initiatives, which includes overviews of all 79 programs, results of participant surveys and media coverage over the past three years. The report can be accessed at www.ulsystem.edu/servicereport.
“The programs captured in this report showcase the energy, creativity, compassion and commitment to service of the eight UL System campuses, consistent with President Barack Obama’s recent signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that will create new volunteer and service opportunities for Americans. As is with the President’s agenda, service-learning continues to be at the top of the agenda for the UL System,” said UL System President Randy Moffett.
Learn and Serve America’s Higher Education Program Coordinator, Kirsten Breckinridge, praised the UL System for its efforts over the last three years.
“The ULS Learn and Serve program has done an outstanding job of spreading service-learning across the state of Louisiana. Over thirteen thousand students have participated in service-learning, providing service to the state’s communities by cleaning and restoring coastal lands, providing tutoring and mentoring to at-risk youth, and a myriad of other projects addressing everything from health to economic development. The leadership provided by Dr. Moffett and the schools’ presidents and provosts has also been exceptional – providing a model for how other state education systems can truly embrace their students’ civic education and incorporate service into their educational mission,” said Breckinridge.
For more information, visit the UL System website: www.ulsystem.edu.
EIGHT UNIVERSITIES STRONG: The University of Louisiana System is the state’s largest higher education system with over 80,000 students enrolled at Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the University of Louisiana at Monroe.