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Why Community Engagement is Vital in Higher Education

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Colleges exist to serve their communities. They are large institutions with resources poised to do a lot of good for their neighbors. The area around a campus is well-positioned to create valuable opportunities for student engagement with the community.

Working with local organizations or companies creates a vibrant ecosystem that is more accessible for students and is more personal than requiring students to travel or do everything virtually. These types of opportunities could be things like beautification projects, consulting work attached to a class, or doing fundraisers.

Here are some of the benefits of these types of experiences for students (inspiration from Vanderbilt):

Increased Campus Involvement

Students who are engaged with their greater campus community are usually not doing it alone. In all honesty, if you can manage it, they should always be sharing the experience with other students. It is a wonderful way to build bonds through the shared experience of helping others. If nothing else, even if the student is working on a project themselves, they can still build connections with those they are serving and working with at the organization. The aim should be to help students understand that no one does anything alone and how valuable it is to be a part of a supportive community.

Build Career Experience

Doing meaningful work allows for relevant skills to be built. Volunteering in the community is no different. There is a lot that can be learned to further a student’s career goals through community engagement efforts. To name a few, students can learn about teamwork, communication, organization, as well as explore the type of careers they might like to pursue. At the very least they’re building a network of colleagues and mentors that can help them in the future.

Grow Yourself

In addition to career-related development, students can experience personal growth. These sorts of soft skills are just as important as anything else for one’s career, but they can be harder to measure. Serving your community can bolster your empathy and moral development since it really deepens the understanding of how our collective actions as a society as well as our individual choices have a real impact. There are historical, systemic issues outside of anyone’s immediate control that are impacting their wellbeing. As such, we can choose to act to help each other to make things even just a little easier for our neighbors who are struggling. Exposing students to these types of revelations can have a positive lasting impact. It can help inform their decision-making in the future.

Connecting your students with their campus community can take a lot of different shapes and have innumerable benefits. As higher ed professionals, it’s on us to make sure we’re making these opportunities available. We must also make sure they’re achieving positive results. It’s the right thing to do for your campus and for your neighbors. They benefit from the volunteering and your institution garners the benefit to its reputation and social capital.