Opening Doors to Student Success

Hot on the heels of my post on coaching, I saw a PhiloDave recommendation regarding an MDRC study on student success at six community colleges.

His post caught my eye because I am a huge fan of MDRC. I find their research scrupulous and relevant. Their work on Career and Technical Education formed the support for my work at Chicago Public Schools and their efforts to re-vamp CTE in CPS High Schools. (In a nutshell, students who are in well-run CTE programs have significantly higher earnings than the control group. The effects are significant for males at $3,600 per year after ten years, and insignificant for females). 
I recommend the most recent piece highly. To summarize, they found:
  • Reforms in higher education practices and policies can help students succeed —even nontraditional students.
  • Short-term enhancements can generate short-term effects but are not likely to generate longer-term gains.
  • Single-focus, “light-touch” student service interventions can make a difference for students but may not be robust enough to substantially improve outcomes.
  • Financial incentives can influence students’ behavior.
  • Requirements can increase participation and improve student outcomes.
Read the paper to see which interventions they studied. One of the promising practices was Learning Communities, in this case “a program for incoming freshmen, most requiring developmental English. Linked courses; provided enhanced counseling, tutoring, and a text book voucher.”

I am going to share this with the Student Support and Pathways Task Force on Reinvention. We meet every Friday to discuss progress. In the meantime, I welcome thoughts (debate, studies showing different outcomes or interventions, etc.)

5 thoughts on “Opening Doors to Student Success

  1. Thanks for this. At HWC, we've dabbled quite a bit with learning community. There is definitely potential and promise for this practice. We've come a long day from the first learning communities at HW. As the years have gone on, a big focus aside from the course content/outcomes has been on dealing with various logistics. The devil's in the details when it comes to "pulling off" a learning community. As such, there are still some challenges with respect to registration and enrollment. Since learning communities consist of multiple courses, eligibility (especially in learning communities that consist of developmental English or math) can result in small cohorts. Though student interest may be there, they may not fulfill (or may exceed) the requirements for the learning community. Another issue is advertisement. An idea that we've been kicking around at Faculty Council meetings and elsewhere is to have a day (hopefully around the start of registration for a given semester) in which representatives from various disciplines are there to "pitch" various course offering and to provide more course/program/major/minor specific information.

  2. I appreciate you providing information on what we have done in the past. Would it be helpful if we also developed one page summaries of what a learning community course of study would look like? The Student Support and Pathways team is looking at material Valencia College produces for students (find an example here: I know Valencia's write-ups are geared toward pre-majors and courses of study, but it seems to me that we could create similar descriptions of cohort-based learning communities. Does this make sense? Is this something we should pursue? I know it is just a piece of the overall picture, but as you said, the devil's in the details.

  3. I'm not as clear on the definition and implications of a cohort (other than what I have read in reports and various articles, blogs, etc…) as perhaps I should be, but I ask, would the students involved in a cohort benefit from being told that they are in one and would getting those students together and magnifying their similarities (academically, their aspirations, etc…) be possible. I think that I am in one that started a few years ago, seeing as how I first attended HWC in the Summer of 2007. How is my progress being tracked as compared to my peers from the same time period? I assume since I left after not completing 15 credit hours (and have since come back) that I am either part of the dismal statistic of student retention or a part of an optimistic statistic of student success…not sure. If I am off subject sorry, I saw "cohort" and started typing.

  4. Cohort in this context is a little different. Here's an example. Recently we offered a learning community centered around the theme of science fiction. Students enrolled in a chemistry class, a social science class (I think) and an english class. The teachers worked together to have some overlapping assignments around this theme while still maintaining the integrity of their individual course content. So the cohort of students was in these 3 classes together. In terms of data, we do know a little bit about what happened in some of these learning communities. For example, the learning community that I was a part of had high retention rates but sadly did not have a significant impact on success rates. The learning community that I was a part of involved a dev. ed math, dev. ed English and Child Development class. Something that we're working on (at least that I've been thinking about) is having there be more opportunities for this type of learning environment so that there's some consistency. Suppose a student is part of a cohort and finds it extremely beneficial. The following semester the student would likely be in 4 or 5 disjoint courses. Having a follow-up (or sequel) learning community could help with this. It would require the synchronization of many moving parts though.The cohorts that you refer to are a different animal. Students with the same entry semester or interests make up more organic cohorts. There is data about them. The extent to which that data is analyzed is being my expertise. I know that the Office of Research and Planning (and district office most likely) have data about retention and success by semester. Logic would imply that this could be nuanced in many ways.P.S. I had written a slightly different response but the internet swallowed it up. This is version 2. User beware. Copy what you're typing to avoid this issue.

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