Strategic Vision

The most impactful discoveries often occur outside the classroom. The Community Service Learning (CSL) program was a model of experiential pedagogy. It combined classroom learning with in-the field volunteer work.

Universities, students and community organizations work collaboratively. Together they contribute to the well-being of Canadians. CSL was designed to achieve community goals and to instil in students a sense of civic engagement.

About the program

The Community Service Learning (CSL) program was launched in 2004 with grants to ten universities. The aim was to develop and expand their community service-learning programs.

Through hands-on volunteering experience, this national initiative helped students enrich their learning while earning academic credits. CSL strengthened community organizations as well. Students shared with them their know-how, skills and passion for change. The program also brought community knowledge into universities, helping to influence teaching practices and curricula.

Since the program’s inception, there has been a marked increase in CSL opportunities for students. With support from other funders, another 30 universities have launched programs. The best programs create new, win-win relationships between the university and their community partners.

The success of CSL programs has pushed universities to make institutional commitments. They’re further engaging with local communities and funding CSL appropriately.

Granting total: $9.5 million


Key Lessons from the Community Service Learning Initiative

  • Students want hands-on learning. It can be professionally relevant and personally rewarding. CSL placements can have a profound effect on students by:
    • improving their academic performance
    • increasing their job prospects
    • nurturing within them a sustained commitment to volunteering and civic engagement
  • Program success is measured by how it:
    • attracts and retains students
    • improves pedagogy
    • provides life and work experience
    • increases community organization impact
    • brings more outside knowledge into the classroom
  • At their best, placements are co-created by both the university and the community. They share knowledge and decision-making in order to ensure mutual benefit.
  • Universities are much larger and better resourced than community organizations. That power imbalance was reinforced by the Foundation making grants to universities only. As a result, universities have tended to frame placements around their courses and allocate budgets to meet their own needs.
  • The prevailing academic tenure, pay and promotion policies of universities need rethinking. They hinder the growth of effective CSL programs. Currently, research and publications are the main success criteria for academics. Community service needs to be valued in the same way. Only then will academics commit the time necessary to effectively design and implement CSL programs.
  • Universities are intensely competitive. They vie for research and operating grants, students, and recognition. Unfortunately this inhibits them sharing knowledge and resources with each other. This needs to change. Only then can a movement be built.