For Prospective CBL Partners

What is Community-Based Learning?

Community-based learning (CBL) (PDF)  is a teaching approach that connects classroom learning objectives with civic engagement.  Civic engagement occurs through service that meets community-identified needs or through research and experience that holds promise of social or scientific value to the community.  In this mutually beneficial process, students are able to gain a deeper understanding of course content by integrating theory with practice, while communities gain access to volunteers, resources, and the wide-ranging research and scholarly expertise housed in the College's many disciplinary departments. 

Interested in partnering with the Donelan Office?

If you have an interest in partnering with the Donelan Office, please contact us

Is Community-Based Learning the best way for your organization or program to engage with Holy Cross students?

Community-Based Learning is one of many offices at Holy Cross that build and maintain partnerships with local organizations. Explore other options (PDF).

Frequently Asked Questions

You may be more familiar with the term service learning rather than community-based learning. Generally, service learning and CBL are considered interchangeable terms in professional and academic writing. Service learning tends to be the term used more frequently.

Research has shown that CBL is an extremely effective learning and relationship-building pedagogy for students, faculty, community partners, and the clients community partners serve. The data* we have collected from our CBL Assessments has proven the same: 

  • 92% of students said that CBL helped them to learn more deeply than they otherwise would have
  • 95% of students said that CBL helped them to connect their course material to the real world
  • 93% of students said that CBL was valuable for their personal growth
  • 97% of students gained a deeper understanding of problems facing society through CBL
  • 100% of faculty said that CBL increased students' student engagement in the class
  • 97% of community partners said that CBL helped their agency to better be able to meet community needs
  • *Data from 2022-2023 CBL Assessments

At Holy Cross, there are a variety of ways for students to engage with the Worcester community and build relationships with its people. The SPUD program is run out of the Chaplains’ Office and connects hundreds of Holy Cross students with agencies in Worcester. Both the SPUD and CBL programs aim to facilitate meaningful relationships between members of the Holy Cross community and Worcester residents. The main difference between the two programs is that CBL involves curricular civic engagement, meaning that students are participating in service in conjunction with their academic work (generally for a specific course). While this can and does happen with SPUD students at SPUD sites, the learning goals for CBL civic engagement are overtly defined by CBL faculty in their syllabi. A second difference between the two programs is that generally, students participating in service through CBL make a commitment of one semester (as their service is linked to a semester-long course); students participating through SPUD make a commitment of one academic year. However,  several of the CBL classes at Holy Cross are yearlong courses where students make a yearlong commitment. Additionally, numerous CBL students create such deep and meaningful relationships at their CBL sites that they voluntarily continue at their CBL site for two, if not more, semesters. A third difference between the two programs is that SPUD, generally, involves weekly service opportunities. CBL includes both weekly service opportunities (for students in placement-based courses) and more targeted service opportunities, such as a single workshop or a single project (for students in project-based course). While SPUD and CBL are two separate programs, sites are welcome to host students from both. To learn more about SPUD, visit the SPUD website.

CBL project-based courses typically involve the whole class engaging with the same research project or short-term community engagement activity; while CBL placements typically involve weekly off-campus community service. Review the list of the current CBL courses.

Typically, students serve approximately 2 hours per week with their agency, or, 20 hours per semester. However, this can vary widely depending on the expectations that CBL faculty and community partners set, as well as the timing of certain programs.

The Donelan Office has put together a Supervisor Manual for CBL supervisors designed to provide much of the information you need to be an effective CBL supervisor; the Donelan Office sends a quarterly newsletter with updates from our office, announcements, other highlights, and information from community partners; the Donelan Office has student leaders through the CBL Intern program, and, if appropriate, certain CBL Interns are paired with community partners to assist with the organization of CBL volunteers and other logistical matters; the Donelan Office oversees the Marshall Memorial Fund which provides financial support for faculty and students, on a competitive basis, for service, research, and community-based learning projects that are of academic benefit to both Holy Cross students and/or faculty and of benefit to the people of Worcester; and, Donelan Office staff are always available to answer any questions you may have, troubleshoot any challenges you may be facing, visit your site, and to provide additional resources you may need.

Because CBL students are completing their service in addition to their academic work for their CBL course, they typically do not have more than two or three hours per week to serve at their sites. Holy Cross does have an Academic Internship Program (AIP) where students are expected to be at their sites for eight hours per week and in a seminar course. To learn more about the AIP at Holy Cross, navigate to their website. The Community Service Work-Study program at Holy Cross may also be a program that fits your needs. To learn more about this program at Holy Cross, visit the Office of Government and Community Relation’s webpage.

Absolutely! If there is a specific need you have, consider working with a project-based CBL course. Project-based courses typically involve the whole class engaging with the same research project or community engagement activity (see question four). Examples of projects that have been completed in the past are: offering a financial literacy workshop to refugees and immigrants; building a website for the Worcester Historical Museum;  and, presenting a lesson on Homer’s "The Odyssey" to a ninth-grade English class. Additionally, the Donelan Office co-sponsors and co-facilitates the Non-Profit Careers Conference (NPCC). Every January, approximately 30 HC students return to campus early to learn about the non-profit world from faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners. One of the ways students learn about the non-profit world is through participating in a case study at a local non-profit. The case study is a real-life challenge that a non-profit is currently facing and needs outside advice in order to work on solving it. Examples of case studies that have previously been done are: creating a strategy to recruit alumni for a community event; creating a survey to assess the effectiveness of a program; and, envisioning different ways in which a newly acquired property could be used to generate income. Contact the Donelan Office to learn more about the case study aspect of the NPCC.

Wonderful! We are excited to start a dialogue with you regarding a partnership between your agency and Holy Cross. Your first step is to be in touch with the Assistant Director of the Donelan Office, Kathryn Hauver, who manages many of our community partnerships. She can be reached via phone at 508-793-3950 or email at We look forward to hearing from you!