Community Service: An Overlooked Measure of Personal Growth and Predictor of College Success

Michele Pitman, Founder, intelliVOL

We generally assume that students who volunteer time in community service have an advantage when applying for college or scholarships. Unfortunately, up until 2008 when x2VOL was released by intelliVOL there was no system to digitally record and verify student service hours, which made it difficult to confirm the amount of time students actually gave. High school counselors and service directors had the herculean task of managing those hours from an imperfect system of scribbled notes with illegible signatures on crumpled pieces of paper from students. Reliability was only as perfect as each individual’s attention to detail. As a consequence, college admissions counselors had been unable to make community service a quantifiable factor in admissions. This alone – the unreliability of reported service hours –had a profound effect on our ability to promote civic involvement.

I’ve been in this business for over 10 years, and too often I encounter high school administrators as well as college admissions officers who believe community service is valuable but, they say, is too difficult and too fraught with busyness to manage, verify, and encourage. It is impossible for service programs to yield reliable data students can use for applications. Furthermore, schools have no way to keep track of how students feel about their service in a way that could foresight personal growth or soft skills such as leadership, character, perseverance, and empathy.

This is a sad oversight and, after hundreds of hours working with educators and over 20 million hours of digitally recorded and verified service hours, I believe that our society has overlooked an important opportunity to measure personal growth in our children and teens.

community serviceI developed x2VOL with the belief that through service students experience personal growth that can be quantified. This may not be a direct cause-effect relationship, but the number of hours students serve and their reflections about that service can be an indicator of personal growth.

The Digital Transcript

Students who give of their time learn something about the world around them, which is invaluable understanding for their choice of college or career. Donating time to a cause helps develop empathy and compassion. How can anyone who serves a meal to a homeless vet or who plays with an abandoned dog at a shelter not come away from the experience with a little greater heart?

We have taken the digital record-keeping process one step further by creating a verifiable digital transcript - the Official Service Transcript ™ - so that all the information submitted for college admissions and scholarship applications is accurate. The Official Service Transcript is only available from x2VOL, and it is now exclusively delivered via Parchment on the same level with academic transcripts. Along with the hours, the Service Transcript reports the students’ reflections about their service, which gives critical data about social-emotional learning. It is time to start using these data points to help schools measure what was previously considered unmeasurable.

We recently surveyed college admissions counselors and officials from around the country about the importance of verified student service records in the admissions process. The data will be released later this year, but early indications show that verified records would be very welcome by admissions counselors. Some of them also pointed out that reflections were an important part of service.

Having to write down what happened and the kind of work that was accomplished makes them pause, and if they don’t adequately absorb the significance of their service at that exact moment, looking back on a list of comments for what could be a hundred hours of service yields patterns. Not only does the student begin to realize that some types of work are more fulfilling than others, but the admissions counselors – who see the reflections on the Official Service Transcript – know a bit more about  students’ character and may be able to better match them to their college offerings.

It is now crystal clear in our minds that we can gather data to measure growth on soft skills. With our reports, a school can benchmark, measure growth, tease data into groups, and analyze trends. Now there is data where before was only intuition and conjecture. Let’s start using these data, move service into the mainstream requirements of school, and use our ability to verify and report service to understand more about personal growth for every student.

Michele Pitman

Michele Pitman founded intelliVOL and created x2VOL, which is a community service management platform for schools. Michele has the unique insight of building a company that fills a need for schools while also aligning with her values to give back to the community. She has successfully built a product that helps build life skills while giving students a better future. With over 20 years’ experience in database marketing and technology, Michele has direct experience building the technology and partnerships between companies of any size: early-stage to Fortune 500; any focus: consumer goods to education; and any structure: closely held to public.