Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

John Saltmarsh

Second Advisor

Patricia Krueger-Henney

Third Advisor

Dwight Giles


Community engagement in higher education has been promoted as critical to fulfilling higher education’s responsibility to the public good through teaching, learning, and knowledge generation. Reciprocity and mutual benefit are key principles of community engagement that connote a two-way exchange of knowledge and shared power and decision making. However, it is not clear, from existing literature, whether community engagement impacts communities in meaningful or positive ways.

The problem addressed through this study was how campus-community partnership stakeholders define impact. This was a study of how impact was determined; it was not an assessment of whether identified outcomes were achieved. Using grounded theory, the ways community and campus partners defined, measured, and understood community impact in a diverse set of campus-community partnership initiatives at two U.S. Jesuit universities were explored, placing priority on community voice and knowledges. Relationships as facilitators of impact and as impacts in and of themselves emerged as central themes. The ideal impact described by many community partners was a transformed relationship between higher education and the community, such that colleges and universities recognized their place, roles, and responsibilities as part of the community rather than apart from it.

Themes from the data led to the development of the Justice-Centering Relationships Framework. The framework includes two distinct paradigms for understanding community impact in higher education community engagement – Plug-and-Play and Justice-Centering Relationships – that are bridged by a Reframing process. A critical difference between the paradigms is the relationship between campus and community. In the Plug-and-Play paradigm, campus-community partnerships function as individual units/phenomena. Impact is focused on, defined as, and limited by individual behaviors and commitments and short-term, quantifiable outputs. Within this paradigm, the university acts as separate from the community. In the Justice-Centering Relationships paradigm, campus-community partnerships are understood as part of a broader institutional commitment and collective effort. Impacts are longer-term and defined as ever evolving relationships that contribute to institutional and social change. Within this paradigm, the university recognizes its position as part of the community. Through the Reframing process, community-engagement stakeholders dismantle institutional structures and policies that perpetuate injustice to create the conditions for justice-centering relationships.