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Developmental Education Learning Communities: What Works? What Doesn’t? What’s Next?. Evan Weissman, MDRC Alexander Mayer, MDRC Audrey Yamagata-Noji, Mt. San Antonio College Mary Beth Love, SF State/CCSF Metro Academies. Strengthening Student Success: October 3, 2012. Overview.

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Developmental education learning communities what works what doesn t what s next

Developmental EducationLearning Communities:What Works? What Doesn’t?What’s Next?

Evan Weissman, MDRC

Alexander Mayer, MDRC

Audrey Yamagata-Noji, Mt. San Antonio College

Mary Beth Love, SF State/CCSF Metro Academies

Strengthening Student Success: October 3, 2012


  • Introductions

  • Research Findings: What works (and what doesn’t)?

  • What’s Next?

    Program descriptions and responses to the research from Mt. SAC and the Metro Academies

  • What’s Next?

    Ideas, questions, and answers from the audience


What are learning communities
What Are “Learning Communities”?

  • Co-Enrollment: Groups of about 25 students are co-enrolled in two or more courses.

  • Instructor Collaboration: Instructors collaborate on curriculum and helping students.

  • Curricular Integration: Courses are thematically linked and include joint syllabi and assignments.

  • Additional Supports: Students get enhanced academic support and/or counseling.


Theory of change
Theory of Change

  • Students form stronger relationships with each other and instructors

  • Students become more engaged through inter-disciplinary learning

  • Students benefit from extra support


Evaluations of six programs


Community College:

Linked developmental math with a college-level course

Merced College:

Linked developmental

English and a variety of


Community College of

Baltimore County:

Linked developmental English, a college-level course, and seminar


Community College:

Houston Community College:

Linked developmental reading with a student success course

Linked developmental math with a student success course

Evaluations of Six Programs

  • Kingsborough Community College:

  • Linked English with a college-level course and a student success course


Implementation findings
Implementation Findings

  • Program components were implemented with reasonable fidelity, but with considerable variation in how tightly courses were integrated.

    • Variation within colleges more than variation between colleges

  • Programs operated at a fairly large scale:

    • Over 170 learning communities in the study

    • Nearly 7,000 students participated in the study

  • Average cost of learning communities about $500 per program group member, above base costs.


Dev ed students average impacts across the six colleges credits earned in targeted subject
Dev-Ed Students – Average Impacts Across the Six Colleges: Credits Earned in Targeted Subject

Increased Credits Earned in the Targeted Subject






Dev ed students average impacts across the six colleges total credits earned cumulative
Dev-Ed Students – Average Impacts Across the Six Colleges: Total Credits Earned (cumulative)

Initially Increased Total Credits Earned







Dev ed students enrollment in program and post program semesters persistence
Dev-Ed Students – Enrollment in Program and Post-Program Semesters (Persistence)

Did Not Impact Persistence


Long term effects kingsborough program
Long-Term Effects Semesters (Persistence)Kingsborough Program

  • Kingsborough had large short-term estimated impacts

    • 1.6 credits in the targeted sequence for dev-ed students

    • 2.8 total credits after 2 years (including college-level students and credits earned at other colleges)

  • Six years after entering the study, compared to the control group, students in learning communities:

    • Earned 4.0 more credits; and

    • Were more likely to earn a degree (4.6 percentage points)

    • The program was cost-effective


Kingsborough earned a degree at any college
Kingsborough: Semesters (Persistence)Earned a Degree at Any College


The kingsborough difference
The Kingsborough Difference Semesters (Persistence)

  • Linked 3-courses

  • Recruited students intending to enroll full-time

  • Included students in college-level as well as developmental English

  • Built in strong academic and counseling support

  • Gave out book vouchers

  • Received strong support of college leaders


Evaluation conclusions
Evaluation Conclusions Semesters (Persistence)

  • On average, learning communities for developmental education students produce only a modest impact on credits earned

  • However, one-semester learning communities can have a long-term impact and even boost graduation.

  • Implementing learning communities at scale is challenging but possible. Establishing high levels of curricular integration is particularly difficult.


Mt san antonio college
Mt. San Antonio College Semesters (Persistence)

  • Partnership between Student Services and Instruction

  • Focus on first time freshmen, low income, first generation college students assessing at the basic skills level

  • Link basic skills class with a counseling class; links are formed into cohorts enrolled in a community class

  • Began Summer Bridge Learning Community in 1997; current Summer Bridge Program 2012 “graduated” over 350 students with over 1,000 applicants

  • Academic year program continues with the English Academy and Math Academy serving almost 1,000 students

  • Have expanded to offering transfer level courses in English and Math at students’ request and with faculty interest

  • Successful pass rates show that students in learning communities basic skills classes consistently outperform students in other classes by as much as a 27% difference in successful pass rates


Core components
Core Components Semesters (Persistence)

  • Faculty integrate curriculum including class projects, study group assignments and teaching styles

  • Faculty trained in “On Course” pedagogical strategies for more engaged learner-centered teaching

  • All students complete educational plans with counselors

  • Academic support provided by Tutors in the Classroom and Supplemental Instruction, Tutoring, Study Groups, Peer Mentoring, Computer Lab and “Study Hall” location

  • Community building is the core: student:student, faculty:student, faculty:faculty through the Community Class, program activities (workshops, field trips), and internal classroom assignments and activities


Ah ha moments
Ah-ha Moments Semesters (Persistence)

  • Students pass core, sequential classes on first attempt – savings to the college, confidence-building for the student

  • Students need to feel a connectedness to the college – a continued sense of community and belonging Students can transition from a basic-skills focused learning community to the honors program

  • Program uniqueness: Intentional effort to create a community for students to which they “belong” – a family support system. Students feel “less lost”

  • Student exiting without another community – “Everything else is not enough.”

  • Successful students exit the program with transferrable skills to use in other classes and confidence due to having a sense of direction (educational plan)


17 Semesters (Persistence)

Metro academies program design
Metro Academies Program Design Semesters (Persistence)


7 essential elements of metro
7 Essential Elements of Metro Semesters (Persistence)

  • Targeted outreach

  • General education course pathway

  • Long-duration student learning community

  • Curriculum design

  • Student support tied to courses

  • Tracking student success and program performance

  • Faculty development


All MDRC reports Semesters (Persistence)

available free of charge at

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]