VonHandorf, T. (2012). Exploring the impact of learning communities at a community college: An effort to support students enrolled in a developmental math course (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3504070)
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of a learning community consisting of linked courses (a developmental math course and a student success course) on students’ retention and persistence in community college.
- The author compared mean outcomes for students enrolled in the learning community (the treatment group) and students enrolled in the same nonlearning community developmental math course in previous semesters (the comparison group). The study used administrative data to measure retention in the developmental math course and persistence into the next semester.
- The study found no statistically significant differences in outcomes between the treatment and comparison groups.
- The quality of the causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not control for relevant student characteristics in the analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the learning community. Other factors are likely to have contributed.
Features of the Intervention
Learning communities provide an engaging academic environment with the goal of improving students’ persistence. Learning communities can consist of paired or linked courses; the main characteristic is the intentional formation of a scholarly community of students and instructors. In this study, the learning community consisted of two linked courses: MAT 055, a developmental math course, and GEN 102, a student success course. The goal of the learning community in this study was to provide peer-to-peer and institutional support for underprepared students.
Features of the Study
The author compared retention in the developmental math course and persistence in college enrollment into the next semester of students enrolled in the learning community (MAT 055/GEN 102) with students enrolled in the nonlearning community version of MAT 055 at Gateway Community and Technical College. The treatment group comprised 23 students who were enrolled in the learning community. These students scored from 26 to 35 in the pre-algebra domain of the Computer-Adapted Placement Assessment and Support Services (COMPASS) math placement test, and self-selected into the learning community. The comparison group consisted of 52 students who scored in the same range as the treatment group on the COMPASS math placement test but were enrolled in nonlearning community sections of MAT 055 taught in previous semesters. The author compared the mean retention and persistence of the two groups using administrative data from the college.
- The study found no statistically significant differences in retention or persistence between students in the learning community and students in the comparison group.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors did not include controls for student characteristics in their analysis of retention and persistence, so estimated impacts could reflect pre-existing differences between the groups being compared, and not program impacts. For example, students who chose to enroll in the learning community might have had higher previous academic achievement than students who did not. 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 the causal evidence presented in this report is low because the author did not control for relevant student characteristics in the analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the learning community. Other factors are likely to have contributed.