The impact of curricular learning communities on furthering the engagement and persistence of academically underprepared students at community colleges (McIntosh 2012)
McIntosh, J. (2012). The impact of curricular learning communities on furthering the engagement and persistence of academically underprepared students at community colleges (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation and Theses database. (UMI No. 3509985)
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- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of basic skills curricular learning communities on the persistence of underprepared community college students at 13 community colleges in eight states. Curricular learning communities enroll cohorts of students in sets of two or three linked courses.
- The study used student survey and administrative enrollment data in a quasi-experimental design in which the treatment group enrolled in the basic skills curricular learning communities and the comparison group did not enroll in the learning communities but took other, similar courses.
- The study found that students enrolled in the basic skills curricular learning communities were 1.27 times more likely to be enrolled in a postsecondary educational institution in the year following program enrollment, compared with students not enrolled in learning communities.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not include sufficient controls in the analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to basic skills curricular learning communities. Other factors are likely to have contributed.
Features of Basic Skills Curricular Learning Communities
In the basic skills curricular learning communities, a cohort of students enrolled in the same set of two or three linked courses. Instructors for the linked courses worked together to create an interdisciplinary learning environment, making connections in content across the linked courses. These learning communities aimed to bolster connections between students and build a sense of community through students attending multiple classes with the same group of peers.
This study included 13 community colleges in eight states: 4 colleges in California; 3 in Washington; and 1 each in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina. These community colleges offered basic skills curricular learning communities specifically designed for academically underprepared students, or students whose placement test scores or academic history indicated they might struggle to complete college-level courses. All schools in the sample had a history of successful learning communities and served at-risk students (first generation college, minority, or nontraditional students, and so on). At these schools, eligible students enrolled in basic skills and general education courses together as a cohort. The intervention lasted at least one semester or quarter, depending on the school.
Features of the Study
This study used a quasi-experimental design. Colleges were selected through an application process, and all students at those colleges enrolled in basic skills curricular learning communities in fall 2003 were selected for participation in the study as the treatment group. Coordinators at the community colleges identified courses that covered similar content and had students with similar characteristics to the treatment group. All of the students enrolled in the similar courses in fall 2003 were assigned to the comparison group. The author used data from the National Student Clearinghouse for enrollment information and from a modified version of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement for background information and reported engagement with instructors and classmates. The author used student survey data from fall 2003 and administrative enrollment data from fall 2004. In total, 6,272 students made up the full sample, and 3,733 responded to the survey. The author estimated regression models comparing the outcomes of treatment and control group members, controlling for demographic and other characteristics.
- The study found that students enrolled in the basic skills curricular learning communities were 1.27 times more likely to be enrolled in a postsecondary educational institution the following year, compared with students not enrolled in the learning communities. This difference was statistically significant.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The author used multivariate regressions to measure the relationship between participating in the curricular learning communities and students’ persistence. The regressions controlled for students’ demographic characteristics, the institution’s academic calendar system (semester or quarter), and pre-intervention socioeconomic status and academic achievement. However, the author did not control for the state in which the community college was located. This lack of statistical controls raises concerns that factors other than participation in basic skills curricular learning communities could account for the observed differences in persistence between treatment and comparison students. For example, differences in state education policies could lead to differences in students’ persistence, regardless of participation in curricular learning communities. Therefore, the study is not eligible for a moderate causal evidence rating, the highest rating available for nonexperimental designs.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not include sufficient controls in the analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to basic skills curricular learning communities. Other factors are likely to have contributed.