The low completion rates of students in community colleges have been well documented. Among students who enroll in community colleges hoping to earn a credential or transfer to a four-year institution, only about half achieve this goal within six years. Many factors contribute to these low success rates, including lack of financial support, lack of motivation and direction, competing demands from family and jobs, and inadequate college-readiness skills. In an effort to address some of those barriers and to increase the number of students who achieve their education and career goals, community colleges are turning increasingly to learning communities — in which cohorts of students are coenrolled in two or sometimes three courses that are linked by a common theme and are taught by a team of instructors who collaborate with each other around the syllabi and assignments.
Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, is a leader in the learning community movement. The college, which has run learning communities for many years and has a long history of implementing innovative programs for its students, is one of six colleges participating in the National Center for Postsecondary Research’s Learning Communities Demonstration, in which random assignment evaluations are being used to determine the impacts of learning communities on students’ academic achievement. This report presents findings from an evaluation of Kingsborough’s unique Career-Focused Learning Communities program, the latest iteration in a series of learning community models designed and implemented by the college. It consisted of two courses required for a specific major and a third course called the "integrative seminar" that was designed to reinforce the learning in the two other courses and to expose students to information about careers in their selected major. The key findings presented in this report are:
- Kingsborough’s learning communities program model was sophisticated and ambitious relative to the typical model in its offer of three rather than two linked courses and its focus on integrated curricula.
- Start-up problems during implementation kept the program from achieving a "steady state" during the demonstration.
- For the sample as a whole, the program did not have meaningful impacts on the educational outcomes that were measured during the semesters in which students enrolled in a learning community or on outcomes measured in the following semester.
- For students who had recently transferred from another college, the program had a modest but positive impact on credits earned during the semester in which the program ran.
Findings from the Learning Communities Demonstration reports that have been released to date generally show that learning community impacts, when they occur, tend to be modest and concentrated in the semester in which the learning communities are run. However, a fuller understanding will be gained as findings are released from the remaining two colleges in the demonstration. In addition, a final report, including further follow-up findings, will be released in 2012.