Community Service-Learning

Community Service-Learning

Community Service-Learning (CSL) is a model of experiential learning that combines classroom learning with volunteer work designed to achieve community goals and to instill in students a sense of civic engagement.

The Community Service-Learning program involves grants to ten universities to develop and expand their community service-learning programs for students. This includes support for professors to adapt courses, for community organizations to effectively absorb students and for practitioners to promote CSL within the university.

There is a complementary grant to the Canadian Alliance for Community Service-Learning (CACSL) to capture and articulate lessons about CSL to a broader national audience. Finally, the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNET) has a grant to test a CSL model that is driven by community priorities.

Strategic Vision

Through its CSL investment, the Foundation envisions a society in which universities, students and community organizations work collaboratively to share and build knowledge and contribute to the well-being of Canadians.

Granting Total

2004 – 2011: $9,500,000

Program History

The Foundation launched its CSL program in 2004. This national, university-based initiative helps students enrich their learning and earn academic credits through hands-on experience in community organizations across Canada. Community service-learning also helps universities to tap into the learning, passion and energy of students and faculty as a way of developing practical lessons for community organizations. Finally, it provides an opportunity for community knowledge to influence university pedagogy and curricula.

To date, there has been a dramatic increase in CSL opportunities for students in the ten participating universities. In order to accommodate a range of motivations among students, community organizations and professors, universities have created a buffet of CSL opportunities from short term student placements to multi-year institutional partnerships focusing on a community issue.

In moving from the margins of academic life to the mainstream, CSL programs have pushed universities to make institutional commitments to engage with local communities and to fund CSL appropriately.

Key Lessons

  • Many students have a strong appetite for hands-on experience that is professionally relevant and personally rewarding. Effective CSL placements can have a profound effect on these individuals, improving their academic performance, nurturing a sustained commitment to volunteer activity, increasing their job prospects and stimulating civic engagement.
  • Success can be measured in many different ways: attracting and retaining students, improving pedagogy, gaining life and work experience, increasing the impact of a community organization and bringing more community knowledge into the classroom. At their best, placements are co-created by both the academic and the community sectors, respecting different types of knowledge and sharing decision-making in order to ensure mutual benefit.
  • Universities are much larger and better resourced than the vast majority of community organizations. By making grants to the universities, the Foundation reinforced the power imbalance between the universities and community organizations. As a result, universities have tended to frame the placements around courses and allocate budgets to meet their needs.
  • The current tenure, pay and promotion policies of universities for academics, in which research and publications are the main criteria inhibit the growth of effective CSL programs. Until community service is valued in the same way, many academics will be reluctant to commit the time necessary to effectively design and implement CSL programs.
  • Universities are intensely competitive for research and operating grants, attracting students, and institutional recognition. This inhibits the creation of a community of practice which enthusiastically shares knowledge and resources in order to build a movement that is stronger than the sum of each university’s program.


The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation 1002 Sherbrooke W., Suite 1800, Montreal, Québec H3A 3L6