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Community Service Learning Courses | Policies | CSUSM

Community Service Learning Courses

Definition: This policy defines a Community Service Learning (CSL) course and provides a procedure for recognizing existing courses.
Authority: President of CSU San Marcos
Scope: The curriculum of CSU San Marcos
Responsible Division: Academic Affairs
Approval Date: 06/06/2008
Originally Implemented: 10/13/2004
Signature Page/PDF: View Signatures for Community Service Learning Courses Policy



Community Service Learning (CSL) is a structured learning experience within an academic course. The service work is directed toward the achievement of course learning objectives and also toward making meaningful contributions to the areas of need identified by the community being served.

The service activity is used to clarify, illustrate, challenge, or stimulate additional thought about the topics covered in the classroom. Structured written and/or oral reflection ties the service experiences to the academic content of the course and also provides students with the opportunity to develop or strengthen their awareness of the relationship between the course material and societal needs, a service ethic, and their role as citizens.

The community service could take on a variety of forms. Examples include the following:

  • Direct service to people in need
  • Policy analysis
  • Community outreach and education
  • Program assessment and improvement of community resources
  • Organization for action on social, health, safety, or environmental issues
  • Applied research
The service activity should correspond with and must be appropriate to the student's level of academic preparation. Activities should take place only at sites approved by the instructor and under contract with the University in accordance with University risk management procedures. Faculty who feel that special circumstances warrant using placements sites other than those on the Office of Community Service Learning (OCSL) database must fill out the appropriate paperwork, available through the OCSL.

A Community Service Learning course includes:
  • Explicit learning objectives and explanation in the syllabus of the role of the service experience in attaining those objectives;
  • Preparation in class for the service activity to increase the student's understanding of the community context that the student will be entering, needs and issues they may encounter, standards of conduct expected of them, etc.;
  • Ongoing, structured, critical reflection with regular instructor feedback that ties the community experience with the academic course content, thus enhancing both; and
  • Evaluation that is based on the quality of the student's learning - not just the completion of certain hours of service - and a grading weight that is proportionate to the community service learning component of the course.

The time allotted to the community service learning portion of the course includes the preparation and analysis time and the time for written and oral reflection as well as the actual time spent in the community. While, typically, the largest portion of time in community service learning would be in the service activity, time allotted for ongoing critical reflection should be substantial as well.

The criterion used to determine whether the community service learning makes enough of a contribution to the achievement of course objective for the course to qualify for designation as a Community Service Learning course is that at least 15% of the student's grades will be based on the community service learning portion of the course. It is suggested that the service consist of at least 20 hours of direct, academically-relevant community service.

All courses and/or sections meeting the definition above must be identified as such in the class schedule so that students can enroll in courses knowing in advance of this expectation.


A. If all sections of an existing course will meet the definition given above, then the department chair (or program director, or associate dean) shall submit a brief memo to that effect to the Catalog and Curriculum Coordinator in the Curriculum and Scheduling Office so that the course can be so coded at the course level. (Then all subsequently created sections will automatically be identified as Community Service Learning sections in the class schedule.)

B. If some, but not all, sections of a course will meet the definition, then the department chair, program director or associate dean shall identify those sections to OCSL. OCSL will consolidate the requests to have sections identified as Community Service Learning sections and relay this information to the Academic Scheduler in the Curriculum and Scheduling Office so that these sections are properly identified in the class schedule.

  1. If a Community Service Learning section is identified to the Academic Scheduler in time for the section to appear as such in the class schedule prior to any students registering for the section, then no further action is necessary.
  2. In the event that a faculty member receives a class assignment or reaches the decision to employ Community Service Learning pedagogy after some students have already registered into the section, it may still be identified as a Community Service Learning section, but the instructor shall offer students the opportunity to replace participation in the Community Service Learning component with alternative coursework (e.g., additional reading and writing assignments).