Problem. Although Mexican Seventh-day Adventist higher learning institutions involve their students in diverse forms of community service, it is not clear whether involvement in service-related projects in these institutions is producing the desired prosocial, spiritual, and personal development in the students.
Method. A mixed methods design combining qualitative and quantitative research approaches was carried out to understand the way community service is implemented in Mexican Adventist higher education and its impact on students. In the qualitative stage, three cases were studied in which 18 people from three Seventh-day Adventist universities in Mexico participated in interviews and focus groups. Data were also gathered by looking at documents and reports provided by the institutions and by observation of actual community service. In the quantitative stage a questionnaire was given to 202 seniors at the same three universities to explore the relationships between involvement in community service experiences and the prosocial, spiritual, and personal development of students. The questionnaire was constructed based on data obtained from the three case studies and the literature. A pilot study was conducted to examine the clarity and relevance of items in the questionnaire. Pearson r correlation coefficient, one-way and two-way ANOVA analyses, and multiple regression statistics were run using SPSS.
Results. Qualitative cases revealed five themes around which the experience of community service on the studied campuses is understood: commitment of the institution to community service, institutional ethos, variety of community service activities, people and roles in community service activities, and impact of community service on students. In the quantitative stage, subjects reported high levels of prosocial, spiritual, and personal development associated with their involvement in community service. The most influential variables of community service involvement were involvement in church-related community service, satisfaction derived from involvement in community service, intensity of community service involvement, and learning derived from community service involvement. These findings are congruent with the theory of involvement which undergirded this study. Required community service did not correlate with any student outcome variable, and political involvement was not related to any of the community service involvement variables.
Conclusions. The benefits obtained through community service in the prosocial, spiritual and personal development of students are worth the effort. Also, this study confirms both the validity and relevance of integrating community service into the academic program and student life of all higher learning institutions, as observed in other studies in this field. Community service works as a formative resource whenever institutions take seriously the moral and civic development of their students and make an intentional commitment to that goal by making it as central to their mission statement as possible. Deliberately created ethos and culture of community service in higher learning institutions help students to embrace community service as a value. Community service is more successful when the institution offers wider diversity in the kinds of activities available to students. Structure is needed to plan, organize, and implement the community service projects. It is up to every institution to decide which form of structure to use when managing community service. This structure may include diverse human groups such as faculty, staff, and students. Continuous empirical evaluation of community service’s developmental goals provides more reliable evidence on which to base decisions than just soliciting anecdotal reports from students. Student outcomes are associated with community service when the students increase their intensity of involvement, increase the learning, time volunteered for community service and satisfaction derived from involvement in community service, play leadership roles when engaged in community service, and become involved in churchrelated community service. Developmental gains are attained when students and their parents engage in community service earlier in their lives. Working while attending college and living in the residence halls play a positive role in the students’ prosocial, spiritual, and personal development.