A postsecondary credential has become increasingly important in the labor market, and college attendance has become more widespread. Unfortunately, college completion remains less common, particularly in community colleges, which serve many low-income students. Finding ways to increase the rates of persistence in school and of degree attainment among community college students is critical to improving their long-term economic prospects.
Recent research on student persistence has highlighted the importance of student “involvement,” namely in a college’s academic and social life — particularly during a student’s first year. “Learning communities,” which emerged in the 1970s, are viewed by many practitioners and researchers as a promising strategy to promote student involvement and retention. Learning communities bring together small groups of students who take two or more linked courses that have mutually reinforcing themes and assignments. The learning communities seek to encourage peer relationships, intensify personal connections to faculty, and foster a deeper understanding of coursework.
Studies on learning communities have found that involved students and faculty had positive views of their experiences. Moreover, results from a learning communities evaluation at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY — part of MDRC’s Opening Doors demonstration — show that, relative to a control group of students in regular classes, students in the learning community moved more quickly through developmental English requirements, took and passed more courses, and earned more credits in their first semester. Two years later, they were also somewhat more likely to be enrolled in college.
As part of five-year grant from the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education to the National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR), MDRC and other NCPR research partners are conducting a multi-college demonstration of learning communities. The demonstration builds on the experiences of Kingsborough Community College, by testing variations of learning communities that have different foci (including developmental math and occupational instruction) and levels of curricular integration.