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Learning communities at Purdue are one of a number of programs created by the Purdue University Lilly Endowment Retention Initiatives; a 5-year, $5 million grant awarded in 1997 funded efforts that improved student learning and, as a by-product, retention. Purdue’s coordinated Learning Community effort is currently housed under the Office of the Provost.

Alexander Astin (1975), a noted scholar and director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, defines community as a small subgroup of students with a common sense of purpose. Vincent Tinto (1975, 1993) has spent a great deal of time looking at communities of students in an effort to understand why students choose to continue with or leave college. Tinto has also examined the impact of intentional academic and social experiences on students’ college experiences. Using Astin’s and Tinto’s ideas to help define the effort, Purdue University’s Learning Communities focus on the development of a community led by faculty with a foundation and focus in academics. First launched during the Fall Semester of 1999 with 46 enrolled students, the program now serves over 1700 students in the Fall 2011 semester.

Generally, first-year students, grouped into cohorts of 20-30 who share similar majors or interests, take two to three classes together. In some cases, students also have the opportunity to live with other students in their Learning Community. In several cases, however, students only have the opportunity to live with one another. The Lyceum, Pre-Pharmacy, Earhart Residential Program sponsored by Women in Engineering, and Women In Science have no courses related to the community. The “Women In” programs (Earhart Residential Program sponsored by Women in Engineering, Women in Science, and Women in Technology) provide structures for male and female students interested in the success of women in these fields to share common living experiences. Since there are no courses associated with these Learning Communities, students may opt to partake in a second LC that piques their interest. An exception to this general rule is the Women in Technology program, which has one course associated with the Learning Community; however, students may still be eligible to participate in another LC. Students in all Learning Communities also participate in faculty and/or staff led out-of-class activities designed to enhance their experiences and understanding of course/major related knowledge. This cohesive in-class and out-of-class experience helps enhance learning and ease the transition from high school to college.

According to Jodi Levine, a nationally recognized educational researcher and scholar, participation in learning communities provides students and faculty with many benefits. In particular, Levine (1999) asserts that learning communities:

  • Improve student learning and retention;
  • Provide opportunities to integrate coursework in an interdisciplinary manner;
  • Help students form academically-based social networks among peers;
  • Increase student involvement in learning and college life;
  • Provide opportunities for faculty-student interaction;
  • Create the possibility for faculty-to-faculty interaction and collaboration that lead to faculty development.

Research findings obtained from surveys administered to Purdue’s Learning Communities students revealed that our program is having results comparable to those mentioned by Levine. In particular, examination of the retention rates for Learning Communities participants and non-participants shows that students who take part in the program are retained at higher rates than comparable non-participants, and also graduate at higher and faster rates than non-participants.


Astin, A. W. (1975). Preventing students from dropping out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Levine, J. H. (Ed.). (1999). Learning communities: New structures, new partnerships for learning (Monograph No. 26). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Learning Communities  HILL 1301 3rd Street, West Lafayette, IN 47906 - (765) 494-2020,

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