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Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) at Carleton College is an approach to education focusing on community-based learning, community-based research, and service learning.

  • Community-Based Learning is academic work that includes a community as a site for observation (and reflection) and community members as subjects for such observation. Examples: students in an educational studies course may be asked to observe a public school classroom; students in an environmental studies class may visit a local dairy farm and explore question of farm production; alternate terms include "field education."
  • Community-Based Research is academic work that uses a community as a site for study and community members as subjects for such study. Examples: students in an anthropology class may be asked to observe interactions among members of a Carleton sports team; students in a literature class may be asked to interview a local senior citizen to construct a memoir.
  • Service Learning is both a teaching method and a learning process that combines community service and academic learning. It is rooted in academic courses which are based on curricular concepts, theories, and methods. Service-learning focuses on critical thinking, reflective thinking, civic responsibility, commitment to the community, personal and career growth, and an understanding of larger social thinking. It meets a community-identified need that contributes to a positive change.

To quote from Service Matters: A Sourcebook for Community Service in Higher Education (Campus Compact, 1996), "...higher education has a responsibility to develop the next generation of active citizens, and campuses must be good citizens in their own communities. When a campus achieves both these aims they are what we call a truly 'engaged campus.'" 

Steven Poskanzer, Carleton's 11th president, on Academic Civic Engagement during his inaugural convocation on September 24th, 2010:

1As a final, forward-looking feature of a liberal arts education, extrapolate from the environmental leadership I just described to leadership in general. Graduates of the best colleges should be prepared—indeed they should be eager—to assume significant roles in the workplace, in their towns, in cultural organizations, and in the political realm. Carleton’s alumni data shows we have some untapped potential in this realm. So, for instance, our Academic Civic Engagement program can help grow students’ leadership skills.


Richer learning occurs when classroom topics are connected to out of classroom experiences, reinforcing educational goals. Data from national studies confirm that when the curriculum and co-curriculum are closely integrated—for instance through service learning, community-based research, leadership development programs, or engagement in artistic endeavors—when there is such integration students grow in their moral reasoning, leadership, openness to diversity, and positive attitudes to learning for the sake of learning.