Community college students placed in a first-semester “learning community” were more likely to earn a degree than a control group, a new study reports. Groups of 25 students took three classes together, including English and an orientation course, and received tutoring, counseling and textbook vouchers.

# ‘Learning community’ leads to degrees

July 18, 2012 by

A 4.6% increase in the 6-year grad/degree rate? Presumably, this is an associate’s degree. If so, I’m not impressed. It’s bad enough to talk about the 6-year grad rate for bachelor’s degrees.

After three semesters, the average number of credits for students in the test and control groups was:

Control Group: 15.10

Test Group: 15.58

With an error of: 0.39

So after three semesters, the folks in the test group (the one with the learning communities) averaged 1/2 more credit.

This is, in fact, what one of the studies reports: “After three semesters, students enrolled in learning communities, on average, are one-half of a developmental credit closer to a degree than students who were offered their colleges regular services. (p41)”

Since “In order for students to earn an associate’s degree, they must complete at least 60 college-level credits”, the average student in both the test and control groups is 1/4 of the way towards an associates degree after three semesters. Note that the report also claims that 1/2 of the original students in both groups are no longer registered as students after three semesters (and actually very slightly more students in the control group are still taking classes), so the surviving students might actually be further along than the average suggests.

I can’t find a part of the report that provides the 4.6 percentile point gain for graduation, but given the attrition rate we are seeing, an additional 4.6 percentile points (not percent) could be impressive. If we lose 1/2 the class every 15 units, we’d expect only 1/16th of the original students to graduate. This is a bit more than 6%. If that 6% turned into 10-11%, that’s quite a nice improvement.

But I can’t find the location for this claim in the actual report. Joanne?

In health care we would never widely prescribe a medication that had such a feeble effect. And in addition, it seems to me that I’ve read of similar studies that found a similar (or better) effect for various interventions with CC students, but the effects did not persist.

The similar study also was by MDRC. If you follow the link, you’ll see a link to the previous research. The effects of this study may seem small, but you have to remember how low community college grad rates are. According to this study, the cost-per-degree was lower for “learning community” students because they were more likely to graduate.

I do understand that. I’m just saying that grad rates that low indicate that tweaking the system is maybe not the right way to go about improving it in any substantial way. Or maybe we should just accept the low grad rates on the theory that adults can make their own choices.

Or maybe we should just accept the low grad rates on the theory that adults can make their own choices.I can think of at least two more reasons. Other things being equal, the more people who enroll, the lower the graduation rate is going to be. But:

1. Education is good. Schooling is education. Therefore, the more people who take courses the better, whether they graduate or not.

2. Schooling provides jobs for people like us. Therefore, the more people who take courses the better, whether they graduate or not.