Developing social capital: The effect of an academic service-learning component on the civic attitudes of college students

Joshua Paul Duplantis, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

Service-learning courses are credit-bearing educational experiences that deepen course content, meet identified community needs and use reflection to help students connect their service with the learning. These experiences give students an increased level of civic attitude and increased networks, which increases social and human capital. Research shows that the increase in capital developed through service-learning plays an important role in students' job search success (D'Agostino, 2010). This heightened social capital is critical as the United States, specifically Mississippi, will deal with a projected increase in the need for college graduates who are prepared to navigate a job search and enter the workforce. This study enhances the existing research by looking at a combination of civic attitudes and other social capital indicators pre- and post-service-learning experience with students at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), a racially diverse institution. Attitude was measured by using the Civic Attitudes and Skills Questionnaire (CASQ) developed by Moely, Mercer, Ilustre, Miron and McFarland (2002a) and the social capital scale developed by D'Agostino (2010) that is used specifically to measure the impact of service-learning on social capital. Findings revealed a statistically significant difference among the service-learning students versus the non-service-learning students on the civic attitudes score but not on the social capital score. Service-learning was found to mitigate a slump in civic attitudes experienced by students not participating in service-learning. The demographic variables of race, gender and class standing for civic attitudes and social capital were also examined. The effect of race on civic attitudes was significant. All other demographic data findings on both the civic attitudes and social capital scales followed expected trends and provided insight into the study, however, theses findings were not statistically significant. The study also found that there is a correlation between the two scales. When civic attitudes increased, so did social capital, and vice-versa. This study identifies the service-learning component as a viable treatment to help students maintain a positive civic attitude and increase social capital.