An Examination of Student Outcomes in a Developmental Education Learning Community for English Language Learners at a Community College in the Pacific

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Learning communities (LCs) restructure discrete courses into linked courses to promote connections between students, faculty, and course content. LCs are cited as a best practice in developmental education (DE) and a high-impact practice in higher education. With an increasing number of English language learners (ELLs) attending community colleges and over 50% of community college students placing into DE, the use of LCs for ELLs who place into DE appears to be an appropriate pedagogical approach. However, there are a limited number of LC studies which focus primarily on the academic success of DE ELLs.

The purpose of this nonexperimental quantitative study was to utilize a longitudinal explanatory design to investigate the outcomes of ELLs in a DE LC at a community college in the Pacific. Utilizing Tinto’s theoretical framework for student departure, this study investigated to what extent ELLs who placed into a DE LC experienced more positive outcomes than comparable students enrolled in discrete courses. This quantitative study utilized institutional archival data to examine the persistence, retention, and academic achievement of the LC as compared to non-LC students.

In terms of the results, the LC students’ average retention and academic achievement were higher than the non-LC students’. Conversely, the non-LC students’ average persistence was higher than the LC students’. However, the outcome differences between the LC and non-LC groups were not statistically significant. Demographic differences between the LC and non-LC groups which may account for the lack of statistically significant findings are discussed. Also discussed is the extent to which the LC students’ performance was higher than it might have been had the students been enrolled in discrete courses. When compared to the findings from other LC studies within the literature, the findings from this LC study appear to be favorable.

Overall, this study showed tentatively positive results for utilizing LCs as a pedagogical approach for DE ELLs, many of whom enter college academically underprepared and fail to persist to graduation. Implications and directions for future research are discussed. Although more research is needed, LCs appear to be a promising approach for promoting the academic success of DE ELLs.

Learning communities, English language learners, English a second language, Developmental education, Community college students, Persistence, Retention, Academic achievement