The study took place at Kingsborough Community College, a large, urban community college
in Brooklyn, NY, that is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system.
The Opening Doors Learning Communities program recruited students who met the following
criteria: 1) first-time incoming freshmen who planned to attend college full time during the day;
2) tested into developmental English (but did not test into English as a Second Language); 3)
planned to attend college full time; and 4) between 17–34 years of age.
The study initially enrolled students who were aged 18 or older but later enrolled students who
were 17 years old with parental consent. Students initially had to report a household income
below 250% of the federal poverty level, but this income criterion was also subsequently
removed. Students in four career majors (accounting, business, mental health, and early childhood
education) were also excluded for the first year of the study because a separate learning
community operated for them. After the 2003–04 academic year, students in those career
majors could participate in the Opening Doors program because the career learning community
program ended. Students who were eligible were given the opportunity to participate in
the study; 1,534 students were eligible to participate. Students were randomly assigned to the
intervention and comparision conditions. After random assignment, 769 students were in the
intervention group and 765 were in the comparison group.
Among students in the sample, 55% were female, 38% were Black, 20% were Hispanic, and
27% were White. Seventy-nine percent were between 17–20 years old, 91% reported having
no children, 28% indicated that their household was receiving government benefits (such as
food stamps or Supplemental Security Income), 74% indicated they were financially dependent
on their parents, 36% reported being currently employed, and 47% reported speaking a
language other than English in their home.
The Opening Doors Learning Communities program was organized around an English course,
where the course level was determined by the students’ scores on the CUNY reading and writing
skills assessment tests administered before enrollment. The English course was linked with
two additional courses: an academic course required for the student’s major and a one-credit
freshman orientation course. The orientation course was available to all freshmen and teaches
time management, study skills, college rules and procedures, and other topics relevant to new
students. The three linked courses were taken together by groups of up to 25 students during
their first semester in the study. The linked courses usually met one after the other. The Opening
Doors Learning Communities operated only during a student’s first semester.
Students in the learning communities were also offered other services, including 1) faculty collaboration
and instructional practices, 2) enhanced counseling and support services offered by
a counselor/case manager, 3) enhanced tutoring for the English course (and, in some cases,
the subject matter course), and 4) textbook vouchers for the initial program semester and subsequent
winter or summer intersession.
Over four semesters, the program included 40 learning communities: 31 with developmental
English courses and 9 with college-level English courses. Learning community class sizes
varied from 6–25 students, with an average of 17 students per learning community.
Students assigned to the comparison group were enrolled in classes for which they were eligible
or that were required, and they could receive the college’s standard services. In addition,
similar to students in the intervention group, students in the comparison group were allowed
to register for classes earlier than most freshmen, and they received advice on the registration
process from Opening Doors staff.
Researchers reported outcomes at nine points in time: the program semester (i.e., the semester
in which students were enrolled in a learning community), the first semester after the
program, the second semester after the program, the third semester after the program, 2
years after randomization, 3 years after randomization, 4 years after randomization, 5 years
after randomization, and 6 years after randomization. Participation in the learning communities
began in fall 2003, spring 2004, fall 2004, and spring 2005. For a more detailed description of
these outcome measures, see Appendix B.
Support for implementation
According to the study authors, Kingsborough Community College provided 1 hour of reassigned
time for faculty to meet about course integration and support for students in learning
communities (i.e., each 3-hour course was treated as a 4-hour course for purposes of determing
each faculty member’s teaching load). Each learning community also had an assigned
tutor who attended the courses, and participating students received $150 textbook vouchers
for the 12-week main session and a $75 textbook voucher for the subsequent 6-week winter
or summer intersession for the campus bookstore.