Transforming Higher Education Through and For Democratic Civic Engagement: A Model for Change

John Saltmarsh, Emily M. Janke, & Patti H. Clayton

The emerging national agenda over the past two decades has clearly been one of fundamental institutional change. … How, though, does such transformation of academic institutions happen? … We call for further inquiry into the possibilities for moving in the direction of institutional transformation that is deep, pervasive, and integrated.


The term “engaged campus” has moved to the very center of national conversations about the future of service-learning and community engagement (SLCE); and much work has been done to describe the characteristics of such a campus. How, though, does such transformation of academic institutions happen? And, what does “institutional transformation” mean in the realm of SLCE? …

Eckel, Hill, and Green (1998), [found] that “transformation does not entail fixing discrete problems or adjusting and refining what is currently being done” (p. 4) but instead “requires major shifts in an institution’s culture …” (p. 3). … Specifically, “transformation … is deep and pervasive, affecting the whole institution” (p. 3). …

A commitment to depth changes almost everything about how we conceptualize and undertake SLCE; it is substantially counternormative to the default ways of framing and practicing SLCE that are ingrained in both the academy and the community and to the largely taken-for-grant identities, roles, and relationships we otherwise bring to community-campus collaboration….

Pervasiveness of SLCE – from mission, budget, and senior leadership to the daily work of staff and students on campus and in communities – is necessary if high quality work is to move beyond the experience of the privileged few in isolated pockets that lack the capacity to transform institution-wide cultures and systems….

Integration [as a third necessary dimension] foregrounds the synergies that can result from holistic and interdependent approaches to institutional priorities, highlighting the importance of aligning and intertwining SLCE with other campus initiatives such as access and inclusion, citizenship and leadership development, internationalization, and assessment, to name a few….

As we think about what is needed for the future advancement of SLCE, then, we call for further inquiry into the possibilities for moving in the direction of institutional transformation that is deep, pervasive, and integrated.


Eckel, P., Hill, B., & Green, M. (1998). On change: En route to transformation. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

JOHN SALTMARSH directs the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE) at the University of Massachusetts Boston and is a faculty member in the Leadership in Education department. He leads NERCHE’s partnership with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to administer the Community Engagement Elective Classification. His recent work includes the volume “To Serve a Larger Purpose”: Engagement for Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education, co-edited with Matthew Hartley.

EMILY M. JANKE is an associate professor in Peace and Conflict Studies and the founding director of the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her teaching and scholarship focus on community-university partnerships, institutional change in support of community-engaged scholarship, campus- and system-wide data management and metrics, the role of communication in collaboration, and academic institutions as members of partnership networks focused on local and regional impact.

PATTI H. CLAYTON is an independent consultant and SLCE practitioner-scholar (PHC Ventures), a senior scholar at UNCG and IUPUI, and a visiting fellow at NERCHE. She works with campuses to envision and establish SLCE infrastructure, apply for and leverage the Carnegie Community Engagement Elective Classification, and build capacities among all partners for excellence in SLCE and practitioner-scholarship. Her current interests include democratic engagement, co-learning among all partners, and civic learning.

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