The study took place at Houston Community College, a large community college system
consisting of over 55,000 students attending six colleges located in and around Houston, TX.
The learning communities project was conducted at three of the campuses around the city:
Central, Northline, and Southeast.
To be eligible for participation in the learning communities study, students had to meet all of
the following criteria: 1) first-year student status; 2) placed into developmental math, including
students in the lowest levels of developmental math (primarily Fundamentals of Mathematics
I or Fundamentals of Mathematics II); and 3) available to take the learning community classes
at their scheduled times. All students were placed at one of two developmental math levels
based on a placement test (COMPASS). The study initially enrolled students who were 18 or
older, but later enrolled students under 18. Across four semesters, 1,273 students were eligible
to participate; 761 were randomly assigned the intervention group and 512 to the comparison
group. Demographically, 67% of the entire sample of study participants were female, 55%
were Hispanic, 35% were Black, and 3% were White. Sixty-three percent of the students in
the sample were between 17 and 20 years old at the beginning of the study. In addition, 28%
reported having at least one child, 29% were financially dependent on their parents, 41% were
currently employed, and 46% spoke a language other than English in their home.
The learning communities at Houston Community College were designed for students at the
lowest level of developmental math offered by the college: Fundamentals of Mathematics I
(Math I). After passing Math I, students must pass both Fundamentals of Mathematics II and
Intermediate Algebra before they can take a college-level course. Math I was linked with a
student success course called College and Career Planning for the learning communities program.
The student success course was designed to introduce students to tools and strategies
that would help them achieve their college and career goals; included lessons on time management,
test-taking skills, and setting goals; and provided information on available campus
resources such as tutoring. Math I is required for all students who place into it, but students
are not required to take it during their first semester of enrollment. However, college policy
does require all students to take the College and Career Planning course during their first
semester. The key part of the learning community was the link between Math I and the student
success course, and the linked courses included at least three integrated assignments. In
addition, collaboration among faculty and connections to support services were reported by
the study authors as salient aspects of the program.
Comparison group students were advised that they were required to take developmental math
courses as a prerequisite to college-level math, but they were not required to do so during the
first semester. College staff assisted students in both conditions with registration for all of their
courses. All first-year developmental students at the college were required to take the College
and Career Planning course.
The study authors gathered outcome data from transcripts provided by the college. The data
were available at the end of the program semester and for one semester after the program. In
addition, cumulative results at two semesters post-assignment were available. Participation
in the learning communities began in spring 2008, fall 2008, spring 2009, and fall 2009. For a
more detailed description of these outcome measures, see Appendix B.
Support for implementation
The study authors reported that each campus had a faculty member coordinator who received
course release time for their work on integrated curriculum planning. Faculty stipends varied
from $200 to $400 per community taught. Campuses also varied in stipends for faculty planning
for new joint courses (e.g., $200) and one-course release time for planning the learning
community the semester before. Additional supports to students included: math tutoring, dedicated
counseling, and development of online videos and PowerPoints into lessons accessed
by students with purchased iPad touch devices. Field trips were supported by the campuses
and incorporated into each class (one field trip per term).