Reference List Entry:

Zhao, Chun-Mei, and George D. Kuh. 2004. "Adding Value: Learning Communities and Student Engagement." Research in Higher Education 45 (2): 115-138.

About this Journal Article:

This study was conducted in order to determine whether student success can be linked to participation in a learning community, success being defined as student engagement in educationally purposeful activities, self-reported gains in a variety of outcomes, and overall satisfaction with the college experience. For the purposes of the study, a learning community was defined as a formal program where groups of students take two or more classes together, that may or may not have a residential component. The study used the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual survey of first-year and senior students, that measures the degree to which students participate in educational practices linked to the desired outcomes of college. The survey sample was 80,479 randomly selected first-year and senior students from 365 4-year colleges and universities who completed the survey in the spring of 2002. The results support the assertion that participating in learning communities is “uniformly and positively linked with student academic performance, engagement in educationally fruitful activities, gains associated with college attendance, and overall satisfaction with the college experience.” The article goes on to describe these effects in detail.

Limitations of the study include the wording of the question (it is impossible to determine if students had already participated in a learning community or if they were planning to do so); inability to distinguish between the different types of learning communities in which students had participated; the reliability of some of the scales employed in the study; and the measures are based on self-reported data. The study does, however, provide evidence that learning communities do warrant classification as a high-impact educational practice, and based on this the authors recommend two actions: 1) every campus should evaluate how many and what kinds of learning communities exist on campus and the numbers of different groups of students who are participating in them; 2) efforts should be focused on creating additional learning communities and attracting underrepresented students to participate them, such as male students, transfer students, and part-time students as these are the groups least likely to participate in learning communities before graduation.