Community Partners’ Satisfaction with Community-Based Learning Collaborations

Karasik, R.J. and Hafner, E. S. (2021) “Community Partners’ Satisfaction with Community-Based Learning Collaborations,” Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship: Vol. 14 (1), Article 1.


Community-university partnerships offer the potential for a number of mutual benefits, yet working with institutions of higher education can pose unique challenges for community participants. To better understand the community perspective, this paper explores community partners’ satisfaction with their involvement in various forms of community-based learning (e.g., service-learning, internships, community-based research). Drawn from a larger, mixed-methods study of community partners across 13 states, the current analysis assesses community agency representatives’ (N = 201) satisfaction with their community-university partnerships in general as well their satisfaction with specific elements of these collaborations. While the findings reflect generally positive levels of satisfaction overall, several areas of concern are identified, including communication with and presence of faculty, commitment and efficacy of students, and partnership equality and recognition of agency contributions. These findings provide a starting point for improving the community partner experience.

This paper is targeted to those of us who work with student-community engagement including experiential education, community service learning, co-ops and internships. Nonetheless, the data include responses from partners of community-based research.

I think this quote sums up the paper, “[Community-university partnerships] are sometimes more work and more hassle, but not often enough and not badly enough to disincline me to continue.”

This article provides the results of a survey of community partners of student learning through placements in community. The authors describe the literature which is mostly from the university side of the relationship. This article steps outside the university experience to get input from community partners. The rationale for this study is that “colleges and universities have the reputation—deserving or otherwise— of being removed from (ivory tower) or at odds with (town–gown divide) their surrounding communities.”

The background literature describes why a community partner might want to get involved with a university: 1) students can be human resources; 2) students bring new energy, knowledge and enthusiasm for the work of the host agency; 3) an altruistic motivation to grow the next generation of service workers. That’s why they do it, but is it working for them?

Some established challenges exist for community partners:

  1. The academic calendar: either needing to get to it now and have it done in a semester or not being able to get to the work until students return in the fall
  2. High level of administrative burden: orientation, training, background checks, and other legal requirements for each new participant
  3. Differing expectations
  4. Dissatisfaction with students’ maturity or ability

The results of the survey uphold previous research. The most frequently cited source of dissatisfaction was about faculty and student commitment and presence in community and on the project. Reflecting on the student, the top three desired changes were increased communication, increased student hours on site, and stronger commitment from students. With the advice being to focus on communication, commitment, and compatibility.

The authors conclude with advice to those considering a community-campus collaboration:

  1. Create a written plan including the “big picture”, day to day operations, plans for evaluation and contingency plans to address internal (e.g., student preparation, behavior) or external (e.g., weather, pandemics) challenges.
  2. Establish a communication protocol including regularly scheduled meetings
  3. Draft a checklist of goals, milestones, and possible pitfalls
  4. Be open to brainstorming mutually beneficial solutions together and considering alternative options.”

Questions for brokers

  1. While the paper collected data on research the analysis is directed towards student engagement (hence the title). Do you think community partners of university research projects will have the same or different concerns?
  2. How do you think student partners benefit from these engaged learning experiences?
  3. Not a question but a request: send this to whatever office – at your university or your local university if you are not university based – manages community-based learning. Ask them what they are doing to promote community satisfaction with their programming.

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create online discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.