Learning communities participation helps students stay course for graduation

November 29, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A first-year student program aimed at creating academic and social communities is helping more Purdue University students reach the goal of graduation, according to a new report.

The six-year graduation rate for students who participated in learning communities in 2004-05 is 74 percent, compared to 68.4 percent for other Purdue students who started the same year. The fall of 2004 was the first time that Purdue was able to offer learning community possibilities for all eligible first-year students who were interested in applying.

"Students from all disciplines benefit from the program because it helps them transition to college by creating a connection to dedicated faculty and staff as well as to other students who share their academic interests," said Purdue President France A. Córdova. "These communities create a peer support network that enhances students' opportunities for social and academic success at college."

This fall, U.S.News & World Report acknowledged Purdue for its commitment to undergraduate teaching and programs that ensure student success. Learning communities was one of the Purdue programs praised in the report.

"Learning communities are popular with students and the program maintains a waiting list, and this graduation data affirms that the program is helping students achieve success," said Dan Carpenter, interim director of Student Access, Transition and Success Programs.

Learning communities, which started at Purdue in 1999, are groups of 20-30 first-year students who take two or three of the same courses together or share a common academic interest and live in the same residence hall. Many of the communities offer both of these components. There are currently 49 learning communities offered this year, and 22 percent of the freshman class - 1,397 students - is participating. The program is planning an expansion for fall 2011.

Most learning communities take place during the first semester, but those with the residential component continue throughout the year. Additionally, learning community opportunities exist for students entering any academic program and major. In many cases, the out-of-class events planned by individual communities connect in-class theory with practical, hands-on application that can make students' chosen field of study come alive for them, Carpenter said. The program is planning an expansion for fall 2011.

"The dedication of the instructors leading these communities is compelling," said Jim Pukrop, senior assistant director of Student Access, Transition and Success Programs and coordinator for learning communities. "These faculty and staff members are doing this because they want to interact in a more impactful way with students who are excited about the content."

In addition to the improved graduation rates, a retention report issued this fall showed that students who participated in the 2009-10 program were retained at a rate of 3.14 percentage points higher - 91.4 percent compared to 88.3 percent - than those who did not.

The USNews & World Report that highlighted Purdue's first-year experience groups also included internships, study abroad and writing in the disciplines. Purdue also was tied for 12th nationally in a ranking of universities cited by college presidents, provosts and admissions deans as having an "unusual commitment to undergraduate teaching."

Overall, Purdue is listed 18th among the nation's public universities, and this ranking is up from 22nd the previous year.

Writer:  Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources:   France A. Córdova, president@purdue.edu
                    Dan Carpenter, 765-496-3618, dwcarpen@purdue.edu
                    Jim Pukrop, jpukrop@purdue.edu