CBL Program Principles of Practice

Principles of practice drawing upon research and experience govern CBL Program work. Two sources of those principles are the communities we work with, and campus colleagues who develop community-based learning partnerships. Learning from both can best guide and improve practice.


We work in many communities and with many different types of community agencies and organizations. There is no unified “community voice” guiding us to successful, reciprocal, sustainable partnership. But there are many community organization staff and leaders with extensive experience working with area colleges, students, faculty with much to share with us about what works and what does not, and why.

Mount Holyoke partners with community organizations most extensively in Holyoke, South Hadley and Springfield. For the last decade or more, Holyoke community leaders, social and human service agency staff, residents, educators and those of us who come from area college campuses have met together to consider ways to ensure that campus-community partnerships are practiced to the highest ethical and practical standards. The “Campus-Community Partnership Project” yielded the Holyoke Campus Community Compact. Mount Holyoke’s CBL Program is a signatory to that Compact, and as such, we seek to abide by the following principles.

  • We seek to ensure that campus-community collaborations reap reciprocal benefits for participating partners.
  • We seek to ensure that campus-community partnerships are characterized by shared respect, trust, and decision-making.
  • We seek to ensure that campus-community partnerships define needs and clear expectations for mutual benefit.
  • We seek to ensure that students, faculty and staff who engage in all forms of community partnership in Holyoke are appropriately prepared, oriented, trained and supervised for such work. 
  • We seek to build capacity among community agencies, residents, and campuses, and assure sustainability of partnerships to create measurable change. 

 Please see the full Compact for more detailed explanation of the purposes and origins of these principles, and of their intended implementation.

CBL Faculty Practitioners

Faculty at Mount Holyoke College who have taught community-based learning courses believe the following ten principles have been instrumental in the success of their classes.

  1. CBL should aim--first and foremost--to offer an intellectually rich educational experience for students and address a community need.
  2. The CBL project should be well-integrated into the course content, so that students clearly see the relationship between the project and the academic goals of the course. They should also be able to understand why the experience has intellectual value.
  3. Adequate in-class time should be allocated for the students to share, discuss, and analyze their CBL experiences with other students in the class and with their professor.
  4. The time commitment for completing the CBL project and students' reflection on it should be flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of everyone involved: students, faculty, and community partner.
  5. Structured opportunities for analysis should be incorporated into the course requirements so that students may reflect critically on their experiences.
  6. Students should receive some instruction in how "to read experience as a text" so that they learn to isolate pivotal experiences and analyze their significance. It is important to remember that while most students have been schooled and are quite skilled in interpreting the written word, they are much less adept in understanding how to analyze experience.
  7. Faculty should recognize that creating a viable CBL project with a community partner takes time, commitment, and an understanding of the partner's point of view.
  8. The community partner should identify what the community needs, not the faculty member.
  9. Collaborations between faculty and community partner are key to creating a CBL project that is both intellectually rich and provides a service to the community.
  10. Final results of the CBL project should be shared by the students with the community partner. End-of-the-semester oral presentations have been especially useful in bringing everyone involved in the project together. It is also a good way to celebrate the project's completion.