Leading the Service-Learning Movement

By:    Date: 01-27-2015


Over the past decade, service learning has taken on an integral role at The University of Alabama. The range and quality of service-learning opportunities for students and the instruction and support offered to faculty members interested in teaching service-learning courses are among the best in the nation.

Service learning is an educational experience that combines organized service activities with academic study and thoughtful reflection to enhance learning of course content and foster a sense of civic responsibility. These service activities, carried out in conjunction with community partners, often provide students with practical experience in their chosen fields. Service learning also encourages students to move beyond acts of charity and temporary solutions to a deeper analysis of systemic challenges facing communities.

SaveFirst, the biggest service-learning initiative on the UA campus, perfectly reflects these goals. Sponsored by the UA Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility, the program trains college students from a range of disciplines to provide free income-tax-preparation services, along with opportunities for saving and investing to low-income families.

In 2014, its eighth year, SaveFirst secured $14.9 million in refunds for 8,200 families, saving them $2.5 million in fees. SaveFirst is the largest campus-based, tax-preparation initiative in the nation. As with many University of Alabama service-learning programs, the initiative has been instituted at other colleges and universities throughout the state. More than 150 UA students collaborated with more than 400 students from 16 other campuses in 2014.

Overall, more than 26,000 UA students completed approximately 720,000 hours of community service with more than 120 community partners during the 2013-14 academic year. An estimated 8,900 students participated in 136 service-learning courses led by faculty members from every college on campus.

Service learning develops in students the ability and desire to take responsibility for the larger community. We believe institutions of higher learning should play this critical role in preparing the next generation to serve as effective, engaged and ethical citizens.

This publication highlights just some of the many outstanding projects and initiatives arising from service learning at The University of Alabama. From providing health care in rural China, Bolivia and Alabama and empowering children to stand up against bullying to addressing systemic poverty in Alabama’s Black Belt and providing micro-loans to small-business owners, service-learning experiences move students beyond the classroom as they apply their knowledge to solving real-world problems and begin to shape the future of our state, country and world.

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Stephen F. Black, Director
Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility
A Division of Academic Affairs