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Engaging community college students using an engineering learning community (Maccariella 2015)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Maccariella, J. (2015). Engaging community college students using an engineering learning community. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Engineering Tutors and Leaning Communities (TLC) program on community college engineering students’ retention and graduation/transfer rates.
  • The study used a nonexperimental design to compare the outcomes of students who participated in the Engineering TLC program to students who did not participate in the program, one and two semesters after program implementation.
  • When compared to non-participating students, the study did not find a significant relationship between participation in the Engineering TLC program and student retention rates or graduation/transfer rates.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Engineering TLC program, but other factors might also have contributed.

Intervention Examined

The Engineering Tutors and Leaning Communities (TLC) program

Features of the Intervention

A northeastern community college implemented a learning community for engineering students. The purpose of Engineering TLC: Tutors and Learning Communities was to increase student success, motivation, retention, and graduation rates through the use of mentors. The learning community lasted for one academic year. Students who chose to participate in the learning community had the option of attending weekly meetings, conferences, field trips, and presentations by guest speakers.

Features of the Study

The study used a nonexperimental design to compare the outcomes of students who participated in the Engineering TLC program to students who chose not to participate. Study participants included 93 full-time students majoring in engineering science and civil engineering technology, with 38 students participating in the program and 55 students in the comparison group. The outcomes included fall-to-spring retention rates, graduation rates, and transfer rates. Using student records, the author conducted statistical models with controls for engineering major, age, Pell Grant participation, gender, ethnicity, and full-time/part-time status to examine differences between the groups.

Findings

Education and skills gain

  • The study did not find a significant relationship between participation in the Engineering TLC program and student retention rates.
  • The study did not find a significant relationship between participation in the Engineering TLC program and student graduation/transfer rates.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study accounted for existing differences between the treatment and comparison groups, examining baseline characteristics and three measures of academic achievement. It demonstrated that treatment and comparison groups were similar on key characteristics before the intervention and included statistical controls in the models. Although the author used a well-implemented nonexperimental design, treatment group participants self-selected into the Engineering TLC program. Students who self-selected into the program could differ in observable and unobservable ways, affecting the observed outcomes.

Also, students in the treatment group participated in learning community activities at varying rates. Attrition could be an issue because members of the two groups dropped out of the engineering program as well as the study at different rates.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Engineering TLC program, but other factors might also have contributed. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2020

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