MDRC in the News

How Learning Communities Can Keep Higher Ed’s Most At-Risk Students on Track

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Nicholas Coronado was the student in high school who always sat in the last row so the teacher wouldn’t call on him, and the bullies would leave him alone.

When he enrolled at San Jacinto College, he naturally gravitated toward the back. The placement test that left him clinging to the lowest rung of the remedial ladder just made him mad.

Before long, he was resenting the work and thinking about dropping out. “Why waste my time and money for a class that doesn’t count for my degree?” he asked himself. “I didn’t want to be one of those developmental students. It was embarrassing, and I was stubborn. I figured those job opportunities are going to be gone by the time I finish.”

What turned him around, Coronado said, was getting involved with a learning community that offered academic support, mentoring, and career guidance to students who struggle with basic academic skills…..

…..At Kingsborough, students who are learning about schizophrenia in a psychology class might be reading a novel in their linked English class by a writer who suffers from the disorder. The third class, focused on study skills and other college-transition challenges, might take them to the library, where a librarian would help them with research for both classes.

During peak times, the college has had dozens of learning communities serving hundreds of students. A study by MDRC, a social-policy research group, found long-lasting benefits for Kingsborough students who participated in learning communities, but only shorter-term boosts for those enrolled at five other colleges it studied.

The intense integration of the curriculum researchers found at Kingsborough requires significant faculty training and strong buy-in from the top — factors that aren’t always found in other programs…..

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