Service-learning is already known to have a positive impact in the classroom but a UGA 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 work 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 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 2014-2015 school year, more than 6,000 students at UGA took over 400 service-learning course sections.