Academic journal article College Student Journal

High Impact Practices: Student Engagement and Retention

Academic journal article College Student Journal

High Impact Practices: Student Engagement and Retention

Article excerpt

Community college students face special challenges that can impede their academic progress, resulting in lower grades and persistence than students in selective four-year colleges. Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, successfully addresses these challenges with learning communities: small cohorts of students in a blocked program of study, which includes developmental or basic English, a one-credit student skills course, and a social or behavioral science course. This research analyzes the short-term effects of the model by comparing a sample of 267 students enrolled in four learning community and four regular sections of sociology and psychology classes. The results demonstrate a high positive impact for learning communities on student success as measured by grades and course completion rates, with higher levels of engagement and lower rates of absences in learning community sections as the key causal mechanisms. That is, statistically significant correlations between mode of delivery and grades are reduced when controlling for absences, elaborating on and perhaps explaining the well-established relationship between learning communities and short-term student success.


In 2010, an estimated 13.7 million students enrolled in degree granting post-secondary institutions; The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects an increase to 20.6 million in 2021. NCES reports that public community college students represent 34% of all U.S. undergraduates; however, over half of these students will drop out. While financial burdens pose one major obstacle to student success, the effects of poverty are amplified by related challenges. The community college student population consists largely of first generation college students, about 45% at the City University of New York, students who are often minorities or recent immigrants. Many of these students are inadequately prepared for college-level work; they need developmental learning courses and, most often, extensive academic and emotional support.

Meeting these challenges and ensuring that community college students persist and progress are facilitated when students form relationships with peers and faculty, an experience often missing among commuter student populations. Their personal, academic, and financial problems often require focused counseling and advisement interventions, alongside student-friendly pedagogical strategies (Cf. Waks 2011). At Kingsborough Community College, the problems, challenges, and special needs of the "at-risk" student population have been successfully addressed by learning communities, with embedded counseling services (MDRC 2005). The research reported here elaborates on the findings of MDRC to offer a partial explanation of how and why the intervention works.

Learning Communities At Kingsborough

In 1996, Kingsborough Community College embarked on the implementation of learning communities, later identified by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) as a "promising practice" through research findings that established their capacity to foster high levels of student engagement (Cf. Smith et al. 2004). Building on initially promising outcomes, Kingsborough expanded the model to create two learning community programs: Intensive ESL and Opening Doors (ODLC). First semester, full-time freshman students enrolled in one of these programs are placed in level-specific sections based on their scores on an English pre-admission test, creating homogenous classes in terms of English proficiency.

The initial learning community programs consisted of small cohorts of students in one- or two-semester blocked programs through which they completed developmental English requirements, one discipline-specific course, such as Introduction to Psychology or Sociology, and a one-hour Student Development seminar aimed at providing students with time-management and other academic study skills, while providing embedded academic advisement and personal support. …

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