Toward a greater understanding of student persistence through learning communities




Reynolds-Sundet, Rosemary

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This qualitative study focused on which features of a linked courses model learning community may foster student persistence throughout a semester long course at a two-year institution. The mainstream course, comprised of 17 mainstream and eight non-mainstream students, provided for a natural experimental setting. Strong features of learning communities were explored through various indicators (i.e., student-faculty and peer interactions, shared inquiry and collaborative learning, satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the classroom environments, and how features of this particular linked courses model were reflected in the learning community model adopted by the institution). End-of- year marks plus persistence into fall were compared. Findings failed to support any direct links to persistence. Results indicated, however, both mainstream and non-mainstream students who passed with a "C" or higher possessed what the researcher identified as an "economy of ambition," characterized by an ability to merge personal and academic lives and schedules successfully. Positive student traits included being goal-oriented, self-motivated, flexible and adaptive to their academic and campus environment. Social integration and inclusion (e.g., social events or participation in campus-wide groups) were not priorities for both groups. Non-mainstream students expressed more positive perceptions toward social acceptance in the non-mainstream classroom due to its smaller size. Thus, heightened peer interaction, a main feature of learning communities, influenced positively students' socialization experience that led to study partnerships, which may have fostered student persistence. Non-mainstream students were motivated, in large part, because of their shared academic goals, and these partnerships would not have developed or been possible in the larger mainstream environment. Both mainstream and non-mainstream students represented a wide range of ages and ethnic backgrounds. The majority felt reluctant to speak up as participants in the mainstream classroom of 25 peers. Academic involvement (i.e., clear expectations from the teachers, detailed syllabus, handouts, and in-class exercises) was a priority for both groups. Overall, both groups appreciated contact with their instructors and expressed a strong commitment to second semester persistence. In addition to analysis of the interview data and strong participant observation throughout the semester, institutional data were analyzed. Findings failed to support any institutional outcomesbased measures dealing with behavioral outcomes except for support for pursuit and attainment of a degree, in particular for part- and full-time developmental (remedial) and first-time-in-college students (FTIC).