American Sociological Association

“I Understand What They’re Going through”: How Socioeconomic Background Shapes the Student Service-learning Experience

Traditional service-learning pedagogy assumes that learning occurs when contact between relatively advantaged students and a relatively disadvantaged service population reduces prejudice. However, little is known about how students whose backgrounds are similar to the populations they serve process this learning experience. This study explores the connections between socioeconomic status and learning trajectories within service-learning. Students provided written reflections on a service-learning experience focused on food insecurity as part of course requirements. Analysis reveals that students with low socioeconomic status (SES) demonstrate different learning processes than medium- and high-SES students. Namely, low-SES students were less likely than high-SES students to hold prejudiced attitudes prior to service, and low-SES students emphasized a systemic understanding of food insecurity and poverty, while medium- and high-SES students were much more likely to emphasize an individualist understanding. We discuss the implications of these findings for future research to improve service-learning pedagogy for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Download PDF


Molly Clever and Karen S. Miller





Starting Page


Ending Page