October 15, 2003
Expert says learning communities a tool for staying in school
An experiment in college retention has become a trend, as more than half of the nation's universities are implementing a concept called learning communities to help first-year students adjust to college.
"By grouping students together in classes and residence halls based on their similar major or academic interests, they are establishing a support system with friends and study groups to help them succeed at college," says Drew Koch, director of learning communities and retention projects at Purdue. "Research results at Purdue show students who participate in learning communities earn higher grades and have higher retention rates than students who don't participate."
Almost 1,100 Purdue freshmen are participating this fall in one of 25 learning communities.
According to 2002 National Survey of First-Year Academic Practices, 62 percent of American campuses now offer one or more learning community.
For example, one of Purdue's latest programs is a multicultural community based on a 1960s theme and includes courses taught by associate political science professor Judson L. Jeffries. In this year's class, students cannot claim to be part of a minority or majority because it is composed of 50 percent minority students, while the other half is made up of Caucasian or international students. Jeffries says the demographics will help stimulate personal discussions about topics such as the anti-Vietnam War movement, the American Indian movement, the Latino movement, the women's liberation movement, black power and the white left. Students also will visit sites with 1960s-related themes.
One of Purdue's oldest learning communities, Animalia, continues to help students interested in working with and learning about animals, says Rod Allrich, associate professor of animal sciences. The students engage in social activities, such as visiting zoos, while meeting other students who have animal-related majors and interests. These first-year students are enrolled in the same classes, including "Biology of Companion Animals." Following quizzes, students meet at their residence hall to discuss the answers with their instructor. They also have special opportunities for one-on-one sessions with guest speakers in this learning community.