Georgia Impact

Service-learning courses can positively impact post-graduate salaries, UGA study finds

Athens, Ga. – Service-learning is already known to have a positive impact in the classroom but a University of Georgia study shows it can help grow graduates’ bank accounts as well.

The research, co-authored by Paul Matthews, associate director of UGA’s Office of Service-Learning, which reports jointly to the vice presidents for instruction and for public service and outreach, found that a group of students graduating in 2010 made about $4,600 more annually in their first full-time job if they had participated in service-learning at UGA. They also received their first raise more than two-and-a-half months sooner than those who hadn’t taken service-learning courses.

The results were surprising, Matthews said, because previous research has indicated service-learning students may gravitate toward careers they’re passionate about, but might not pay as well as other options.

“We were expecting that we might find people who had service-learning would actually have lower salaries,” Matthews said. “In that sense, we were surprised to find the opposite.”

The study was co-authored by Jeffrey Dorfman, a UGA professor of agriculture and applied economics, and former graduate student Xuedong Wu. It was published this fall in the International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement.

Researchers looked at 44 unique pairs of students, matching them from a larger sample as closely as possible based on major, gender, graduation date, GPA and SAT scores. One member of each pair had taken service-learning courses while the other did not. Service-learning courses link the academic content of the class with a real-world community need or issue.

The study didn’t look at why service-learning students earned more but Matthews has a few theories.

“We know from a lot of research that service-learning courses tend to lead to student outcomes that employers tell us they want,” Matthews said. “Students report they have enhanced teamwork skills, enhanced communication skills. They better understand the subject matter and how to apply it in the real world. In many service-learning classes they’ve done a project or activity in the real world they can put on their resume or CV.”

During the 2014-15 school year, more than 6,000 students at UGA took over 400 service-learning course sections. More than 4,800 of those students were undergraduates, with the rest coming from graduate and professional programs.

“There is a large body of evidence that students who participate in service-learning see many immediate benefits from the learning experience, particularly related to professional skill development or hands-on experience that could be an asset in the job search process,” said
Shannon Wilder, director of the Office of Service-Learning. “This study demonstrates what we have thought all along, and that is that service-learning also has many long-term career benefits for students. As we expand service-learning and other experiential learning offerings to more students at UGA, there is growing evidence that this is truly an investment that makes our students more competitive after graduation.”

The Office of Service-Learning has a $19.2 million economic impact on the state, based on the salary potential of UGA students who engage in service-learning, according to Dorfman. The Office of Public Service and Outreach has a $345 million total economic impact on the state.