Skip to main content

Retention through civic engagement: first year day of service as a high-impact practice

In 2016, Salem State University launched Moving Forward, Giving Back: Salem State University’s First Year Day of Service (MFGB), sponsored by the university’s Center for Civic Engagement and First Year Experience Office. This event offers first-year freshmen and transfer students the opportunity to move in early and spend a day volunteering in a community throughout greater Salem.

Now in its third year, about 160 first year students and 17 transfer students took part in MFGB 2018 and were joined by student leaders, faculty, staff, and alumni. Altogether, over 300 participants went into six local communities and worked on 32 community service projects. Volunteer work included helping local schools prepare for the upcoming year, voter registration, and assisting local nonprofits with cleaning, painting, organizing, gardening and more. 

The impact of MFGB stretches beyond the good work done in the community. Data indicate that the first-year freshmen who take part in MFGB have a successful transition into college, an overall positive first semester, and higher retention rates compared to their peers who did not participate.

Using longitudinal data for the time period of fall 2016 to fall 2018, the overall retention rate for freshmen who took part in MFGB is 75 percent, compared to 62 percent for peers during those same years. The attached chart also demonstrates that students who took part in MFGB reported in higher numbers that they intend to complete a degree at Salem State, intend to participate in a student organization, and feel they belong on the campus, among other responses.

Theoretical Perspectives

Salem State’s data related to its first-year day of service is in line with theoretical perspectives on the value of such high-impact practices. Research in this area shows the following:

  • High impact practices like first year experiences, collaborative projects, diversity/global learning, and community-based learning have an impact on retention and engagement (Kuh, 2009).
  • Service participation on a general level during the first college year is significantly and positively related to retention (Vogelgesang, Ikeda, Gilmartin & Keup, 2002).
  • Students who are actively engaged with classmates and community tend to remain on strong academic paths and fulfill educational pursuits. They stay in school, earn their degrees, more frequently pursue higher levels of postsecondary education, and often become future community volunteers (Kraft and Wheeler, 2003).

To support the theoretical perspectives on the value of high-impact practices, Salem State has identified five high impact traits that are prevalent in all MFGB experiences. These include: investing time and effort in collaborative projects; interacting with faculty and peers about substantive matters; experiencing diversity; reflective and integrative learning; and discovering relevance of learning through real world applications.

Next Steps

MFGB will continue to be used as a high-impact practice aimed at increasing student success while giving back to surrounding communities. Furthermore, as cohorts of participants progress in their careers at Salem State, additional data will become available related to retention, satisfaction, and graduation rates.   

Nicole Giambusso
Back to top