Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Examining the Academic Performance and Retention of First-Year Students in Living-Learning Communities and First-Year Experience Courses

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Examining the Academic Performance and Retention of First-Year Students in Living-Learning Communities and First-Year Experience Courses

Article excerpt

Institutional data were used to examine the grades and retention of first-year students in 2 types of living-learning communities-Academic Theme Floors (ATFs) and Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs)-and a First-Year Experience (FYE) course. Multiple regression revealed students in FIGs earned nominally higher GPAs (standardized β = .02, p < .01). Logistic regression revealed participating in a FIG increased students' odds of being retained by 18% (Exp(β) 1.18, p. <.05). Participating in an ATF or FYE did not improve grades or retention. Findings suggest retention can be improved when faculty members and student affairs practitioners collaboratively create programs that link the curricular and residential experience, and foster student interaction with peers and faculty who share an academic interest.

The need to improve U.S. higher education has been clearly and repeatedly articulated for more than twenty years. In the early 1980's the U.S. Department of Education convened a panel of experts to examine the state of higher education and it issued a report calling for "demonstrable improvements in student knowledge, capacities, skills, and attitudes between entrance and graduation" (Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education, 1984, p. 15). Other calls for reform have followed. One of the most frequently cited examples, An American Imperative (Wingspread Group, 1993), demonstrates why the American people need their colleges and universities to dramatically improve in terms of access, retention, graduation, and the quality of education leading to a baccalaureate degree. The Spellings Commission has continued this theme, asserting that "most colleges and universities don't accept responsibility for making sure that those they admit actually succeed" (U.S. Department of Education, 2006, p. xii), and calling for improvements in six areas: access, cost and affordability, financial aid, learning, transparency and accountability, and innovation. In short, the case for needed improvements has been consistent and well made.

One area of higher education that has continued to challenge colleges and universities, even though it has been the subject of study for over 75 years (Braxton, 2000), is the retention of first-year college students. Although Adelman (2006) points out that about 90% of all first-year college students are enrolled in some college or university at some point during the following calendar year (i.e., only 10% have fully 'dropped out'), there seems to be no justification for the fact that nationally about half of all first-year students do not persist to the second year at the institution in which they originally enroll (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Student success rates, as measured by retention, vary widely depending on institutional type (Ishler & Upcraft, 2005). Specifically at four-year institutions, most studies report only 72 to 79 percent of first-year students persist to the second year (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

Many institutions have put forth significant effort to improve student learning and success, and most colleges and universities have some form of transitional support program in place for first-year students (Barefoot, 2000). Living-learning communities are becoming widely viewed by student affairs practitioners as a powerful opportunity to positively affect a variety of student outcomes (Inkelas, Soldner, Longerbeam, & Leonard, 2008; Shapiro & Levine, 1999) including retention and GPA performance of first-year students (Stassen, 2003). However, Inkelas et al. (2008) state "there is limited national data ...and many campuses have scant local evidence about how their L/L [living-learning] programs affect student learning and outcomes" (pg. 498, emphasis in original). A further limitation of the existing literature is that most research has focused on a single type of living-learning program even through there is a wide variety of program models currently in practice (Inkelas et al. …

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