Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career and Higher Education

Major Professor

Thomas Miller, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Kathy Bradley-Klug, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Emily Shaffer-Hudkins, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Sullins, Ed.D.


civic engagement, constructivism, higher education, moral education, moral judgment, moral growth, moral behavior, reflection


Short-term service-learning experiences such as alternative breaks are increasing in popularity due to the focus on service in higher education and the institution’s responsibility to ensure students are graduating with the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive, global economy and contribute to a democratic society as citizens who address societal needs. To meet this demand, colleges and universities continue to explore ways to increase civic engagement in the form of curricular and co-curricular programs. Additionally, faculty and administrators in higher education are intensely seeking a revitalization of the public purposes of higher education, which include educating for moral and civic development (Colby, 2000). One specific need identified in the research literature includes developing a better understanding of the relationship between service-learning and moral competence. There are strong indications that service-learning experiences support psychosocial development in areas such as appreciation of diversity, empathy, concern for social justice, a greater sense of personal efficacy, and problem solving (Bernacki & Jaeger, 2008; Einfeld & Collins, 2008; Marichal, 2010). While this limited research is hopeful, little to no research has been conducted to date to explore the relationship between a co-curricular service-learning experience and moral competence.

An exploratory, mixed methods study was conducted with participants of a short-term service-learning experience known as a Bulls Service Break at the University of South Florida. A pre-post analysis was conducted on participants to determine if there was a relationship between moral competence and the service-learning experience through use of the Moral Competence Test. Additionally, a questionnaire was administered to participants upon completion of their service experience to explore the relationship between service-learning and Rest’s Four Component Model of Moral Behavior. The questions focused on moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character. These data were analyzed using a combination of statistical analysis through SPSS for the quantitative research question, and through thematic coding for the qualitative questionnaire responses.

Results indicated that students experienced an increase in their moral competence as evidenced pre-post comparison of C-scores. Additionally, for the research questions pertaining to Rest’s Four Component Model of Moral Behavior, relationships between moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation and moral character were confirmed via the themes generated from the qualitative data analysis. Participants experienced increased self-awareness and social awareness with relation to moral sensitivity. When exploring the data pertaining to moral judgment, participants expressed a realization of social injustice in our communities. This awareness then prompted participants to be morally motivated to combat social injustices by helping others and giving back to my community and by treating others equally and with respect. And finally, the participants’ moral character was tested when they experienced situations that made them uncomfortable during their service but they persisted toward combating social injustices and helping the communities they served. Based on the findings of the study, suggestions for future research and practical implications are offered.

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