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Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement Working Group

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Demo the Pathways survey

Note: Data collected through this demo Pathways survey is not recorded. Feel free to use the demo as many times as needed.

Learn more about the Pathways


As a Campus Compact partner, the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University invites participation in a collaborative working group to advance understanding of students’ interests and predispositions regarding approaches to social change: community engaged learning and research, community organizing and activism, direct service, philanthropy, policy and governance, and social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility.  The Working Group’s focus is on implementation, analysis, use, and refinement of the Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement survey.

To join the Pathways Working Group, an institution or program must commit to the following:

  1. Identify a primary liaison willing to be responsible for administration of the survey and who will participate, when available, in periodic (3-4 per year) video conferences with other Working Group members.
  2. Implementation of the Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement survey with at least one cohort of students at their institution (a class, program, etc.).

While the Haas Center has been instrumental to the development and initial formation of the Pathways framework and survey, Campus Compact now manages Pathways Working Group activities, with leadership provided by Working Group members from participating institutions who play a rotating, co-leadership role. Institutions can participate in the Working Group regardless of their affiliation with Campus Compact.

For more information or to join the Working Group, contact Emily Phaup at Campus Compact.

Evolution and development of the Pathways survey

The survey was created in 2014 to serve as a guide for student advising. Based on the Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement, the Haas Center for Public Service, led by Executive Director Thomas Schnaubelt, developed a diagnostic survey for use across multiple types of higher education institutions, programs, and/or courses. Kristy Lobo, the Program Director of Student Development and Leadership at the Haas Center, spearheaded the development of the prototype diagnostic survey and Andrew Suciu, a graduate student at Stanford University, developed the code for graphic visualization of the data. The survey was piloted in 2014-15 with several programs at Stanford University and at the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action at St. Mary’s College of California.

Modifications have been made with input from Campus Compact member institutions and through a series of workshops and webinars hosted by Campus Compact, the Community College National Center for Community Engagement, NASPA, the American Gap Association, and the Building Bridges Coalition. We anticipate continued refinement in future years with input from members of the working group.

As the survey was refined, it evolved to serve three interrelated purposes:

  1. Improve the quality of advising with individual students.
  2. Understand the needs and desires of students to guide programming.
  3. Conduct longitudinal research regarding college student predispositions.

The Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement Working Group is managed by the Haas Center for Public Service and Campus Compact and serves as a cross-institution working group to implement, improve, and use this survey for these purposes.

Pathways conceptual foundations and evidence

A central challenge of the civic engagement movement within higher education is the lack of a coherent framework that is shared across different institutions and cultural contexts. This, along with inconsistent use of language and variations in the quality and depth of programming, has ruled out meaningful comparative analysis and made it difficult to understand the impact of various programs and interventions (on students, communities, and institutions) in a generalizable way.

In the Pathways framework, emphasis is placed on recognition that there is no one single path to social change – people move in and out of these pathways over time – and that they are issue-based rather than discipline-bound (Wagner 2006; Zimmerman & Zahniser 1991; Watts, Griffith, & Abdul-Adil 1999; Minnesota Campus Compact Social Change Wheel 1996). Recent trends indicate the relevance and importance of creating such a framework.

First, some students come to college having formed semi-rigid identities related to particular approaches to social change. Some of these identities are formed based on incomplete information or even misinformation. A second trend lies in the increasing number of academic structures that have developed to support various forms of civic learning and democratic engagement (Reich 2014). Too often, academic institutions treat the pathways as disciplines and build discrete support structures for them. Differences may also exist across the various pathways in terms of language, approaches, cultural norms, and foundational values.

The Pathways survey can enable further research across institutions to increase understanding over time of students’ interests as well as their dispositions. Research implications span the range of short-, medium-, and long-term goals including increased understanding of the variance among the different pathways by gender, first-generation students, or ethnicity; the depth of experience one has in public service; and the potential identification of a career trajectory of a “civic professional.” Findings from the research may influence and inform policies on student engagement, such as one that ensures students have an opportunity to explore many of the pathways during their time in college.

Findings from 2015-2022 collected from approximately 14,100 students at 84 institutions and organizations indicate they consistently tend to be most interested in the direct service pathway. However, the pathways (1) perceived to have the most impact, (2) in which students have the most experience, and (3) identified as areas of personal strength fluctuated in that seven-year period, potentially influenced by sociopolitical context and events. Differences within each pathway arose in gender, first-generation attendance, year in school, and faith traditions.

Data collected by the Pathways survey inform faculty and staff, who can (1) place students in community settings where they have strong pathway inclinations, (2) encourage students to explore pathways they had not considered, or (3) ensure they experience all six pathways in multiple placements during college. Each pathway provides students with experience that they can use with high-impact practices in the classroom (e.g., service learning, first-year experience, learning communities), in co-curricular settings (e.g., student government, clubs, themed residence halls), and eventually in the workplace and civil society.

Frequently asked questions regarding the use of the Pathways survey

Are there other pathways of public service that can be included in the framework (e.g., innovation, spirituality/religion, etc.)?
While any typology is imperfect, the Working Group has refined the different pathways so that they are as clear, inclusive, and distinctive as possible. We use two criteria to evaluate proposed new pathways: a) whether the concept is captured within the existing framework, and b) whether the proposed idea could be applied to multiple frameworks (for example, it is possible to approach any of the pathways from a religious or spiritual perspective). Minimizing large changes in the overall framework over time allows us to track student perspectives on a longitudinal basis.

May I replicate/modify the survey and use it at my institution?
While it would be easy for a campus to replicate the questions, the advising potential is greatest through the data visualization, which is difficult to replicate. From a research perspective, the survey is most powerful when campuses/programs use the same instrument. We ask that colleagues are respectful of the work that was put into developing the survey.

Will my campus have access to the data?
Yes. Every participating campus will have access to their respective campus data.  During the summer, we will compile the data into a single file, removing individual campus identifiers, and share it with participating campuses. If your campus has a Qualtrics license, we can share the survey with you so that you are able to view/download the data.

Are you open to suggested changes?
Yes. However, to ensure consistent administration across campuses, we will not modify the survey after July 1st for each subsequent year’s distribution.

Can we add questions for our particular institution?
Not at this time, but possibly in the future. We do not currently have the bandwidth to accommodate adding questions for individual campuses.

Is there a fee to participate?
From 2021 to 2023, the Haas Center requested a voluntary $200 membership fee from institutions to help cover administrative costs for survey design, data analysis, and Working Group management. As of spring 2023, participation in the Working Group, use of the Pathways survey, and access to data is a membership benefit of Campus Compact. Institutions that are unaffiliated with Campus Compact are welcome to join the Working Group as well.

Can we use the survey as a pre/post?
While only one survey link will be created for each participating institution, data will be time-stamped so you may be able to discern “pre” from “post” using the time stamp (e.g., one series of responses in October, one in May). If you want to link individual pre/post responses, you will need to encourage (but not require) participants to include their email.

Do I need to pursue Human Subjects Review at my campus?
Each campus should inquire with their respective Institutional Review Board. The survey has been approved by IRB at Stanford University and Saint Mary’s College of California, and it will be required if you hope to publish using the data in the future.

When is the best time to administer the survey?
It will ultimately depend on how you are using the survey (for advising, program development, research, or multiple ways), but we recommend that the first administration of the survey be before facilitating a workshop on the pathways. This reduces potential bias regarding students' predispositions.

What kind of workshops do you do with the Pathways?
We have developed workshops and reflection activities that we are willing to share. We post write-ups of various workshops on a website dedicated to informing colleagues about the Pathways. We encourage participating campuses to document innovative workshop ideas, post them to the website, and share them during in-person and online meetings.

How will campuses using the survey communicate with each other?
The Haas Center for Public Service and Campus Compact host quarterly video conferences with the Working Group (3-4 per year). Members also connect through a private group list and in-person retreats.

Where may I find Pathways examples and aggregated survey results?
Campus Compact hosted a 1-hour Pathways webinar on October 8, 2020, featuring background on the framework and survey, examples from Working Group members, and data highlights from 2019-2020. And the American Association of Colleges & Universities published an interview with some Pathways participants in November 2021. 

How do we join?
Have your primary liaison email Emily Phaup indicating your desire to participate in the Working Group. Annual renewals occur each summer, but institutions may join throughout the academic year. Emily can also answer any questions you may have about participation.

Community and K-12 surveys

In 2022, Pathways Working Group member UServeUtah—the state’s commission on service and volunteerism—modified the Pathways survey for use by members of the public. Called the “Community Engagement Pathways,” this online survey and corresponding toolkits help individuals identify their strengths and interests to address critical community needs. For more information, contact Mike Moon, Associate Director,

A group of teachers and administrators from K-12 schools in the U.S. and Canada collaborated with some Working Group members in summer 2022 to modify the Pathways survey for younger students. A non-data-collecting demonstration survey for high school / secondary school students is now available. This demo version may be used as many times as needed. 

Contributing members

The Haas Center is pleased to acknowledge the following Working Group members that have contributed financially to the advancement of our collective Pathways work: Bucknell University; California Lutheran University; California State University - San Bernardino; Colby College; College of DuPage; College of the Canyons; Cornell University; Drake University; Fort Hays State University; George Mason University; George Washington University; Gonzaga University; Illinois College; Juniata College; Milwaukee Area Technical College; Northeastern University; Northern Illinois University; Oregon State University; Pepperdine University; Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND); Reedley College; Salt Lake Community College; San Diego State University; St. Norbert College; University of Michigan; University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill; University of Oregon; University of Pennsylvania - SNF Paideia Program; University of Pittsburgh; University of Puget Sound; University of Utah; University of Wisconsin - Madison; University of Wisconsin - Parkside; Utah Valley University; Whitworth University; and William & Mary.