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Graduate Certificate in Service-Learning and Community-Based Learning in Postsecondary Education

Portland State University is an internationally recognized leader in community-based learning and civic engagement. As a designated Carnegie Foundation Engaged Campus, students, faculty, administrators, and community partners from around the world visit PSU each year to learn programmatic, teaching, learning, and engaged scholarship techniques of service-learning. 

The 18 credit Graduate Certificate in Service-Learning and Community-Based Learning in Postsecondary Education was the first program of its kind in 2008 and is still one of only a few in the United States. The graduate certificate is specifically designed for:

  • College professionals who (or who want to) coordinate and direct various forms of civic engagement including volunteerism, community service, service-learning and community-based learning.
  • Faculty and instructors at colleges (and teachers in K12 schools) interested in connecting academic content with experiential and community-based learning and service activities.
  • Community professionals interested in connecting non-profit agencies, NGOs, and social service organizations with colleges in order to support student learning and community enhancement.

Graduate certificate and master’s specialization options:

  • Students who have already earned their master’s degree complete only the graduate certificate courses as a form of professional development and formal credentialing.
  • Students who are completing their master’s degree in PACE may count the courses as their specialization and also receive a separate graduate certificate.
  • Students may take these courses as electives in any of the ELP master’s degree programs; students do not have to complete the entire SL/CBL graduate certificate.
  • Students in master’s and doctoral programs at other institutions may take single or multiple courses as electives if approved by their own institutions.
  • Advanced undergraduate students may take courses with permission.

Courses are available fully online (for those in other U.S. regions or other countries) and as a hybrid option (meeting face-to-face every other week; with alternate weeks on-line) for those able to attend class at the PSU campus.

Professional learning objectives:

  • Provide historical, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of civic engagement as a form of learning and engaged democratic citizenship.
  • Convey research and evidence-based outcomes of community-based learning and service-learning as a sound pedagogical teaching and learning technique.
  • Investigate curricular and co-curricular best practices within the contexts of inhibitors and facilitators of reciprocal campus-community collaborations.
  • Engage in active community service, learning, teaching, programming, and assessment as a form of professional knowledge and skill development.

Certificate curriculum

Students complete a total of 5 classes (18 credits) that includes two of three specialization courses in civic engagement (ELP 542, 543 or 549); 2 elective courses in adult learning, leadership, or curriculum development; and a capstone course. Concurrent, students engage in community-based learning activities (3-5 hours per week) in their own local community either at a school, college, or community site based on their own personal and professional goals and interests (with faculty adviser approval).


Time to graduate certificate completion

Most students complete the graduate certificate in 4 academic quarter terms (1 calendar year); although it is possible to complete within 3 terms. Students have a maximum time frame for completion of 6 years. Courses are available EVERY term; students may begin or finish any academic quarter.  

Program of study

Refer to the PACE Planning and Course Guide for current offerings and delivery formats (online, hybrid, F2F). Click here to register for current term courses.








Required service-learning courses: Complete 542 and either 543 or 549

ELP 542 Introduction to Service-Learning and Community-Based Learning in Postsecondary Education 4 Hybrid & Online+      

ELP 543 Service-Learning in Postsecondary Educational Leadership and Policy: Domestic Issues



Hybrid & Online+


ELP 549 Service-Learning in Educational Leadership and Policy: International Issues



Offered Alternate Years only


Required education courses: Complete at least one of the following; may take more

ELP 522 Teaching Diverse Adult Learners 4  
*F2F Online
ELP 536 Postsecondary Curriculum 4 Online   *F2F  



ELP 528 Leadership in Postsecondary Education





Electives (as needed for 18 total graduate certificate credits): Any ELP course 511-599 counts as an elective. See PACE Planning and Course Guide for current offerings and delivery formats.

Required culminating experience

ELP 506 Culminating Project (Self-Directed Learning Experience)






Application process

Graduate Certificate only students complete a very short application form.  Master’s degree students complete a longer application form that includes submission of undergraduate degree transcripts and reference contact information.

For graduate certificate or master’s admissions paperwork questions, contact David Bikman, Admissions & Student Support Specialist: or (503) 725-4633.

Begin your

For information about the PACE master's degree, please visit

Faculty advisor and coordinator

Christine M. Cress, PhD, Professor, Educational Leadership, Policy, and Service-Learning

Dr. Cress developed and directs the Graduate Certificate and Master’s Degree Specialization in Service-Learning and Community-Based Learning. She was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at Middle East Technical University in Turkey and has conducted trainings on curricular integration of civic engagement at colleges in North America, Caribbean, Europe, Japan, and India. An accomplished scholar (75+ publications) on cognitive, cultural, pedagogical, and evaluation issues in civic engagement, she is lead author of the internationally best-selling textbook, Learning through Serving: A Student Guidebook for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement across Academic Disciplines and Cultural Communities.

Cress faculty profile:

To schedule an office or phone appointment regarding the graduate certificate or master’s specialization, email Dr. Cress at:

Length of program

Intended time to complete: 3 terms

Click here for information on available scholarships, financial aid, and estimated program costs.