The study took place at Hillsborough Community College (HCC), a large, urban community
college in Tampa Bay, FL. The HCC has five campuses; three (Brandon, Dale Mabry, and Ybor
City) participated in the Learning Communities Demonstration.
To participate in the learning communities study at Hillsborough, students had to meet all of
the following eligibility criteria: 1) at least 18 years old; 2) first-time students; and 3) placed into
developmental reading—either College Preparatory Reading 1 or College Preparatory Reading
2 (i.e., one or two levels below college level). This level of placement was determined by
scores on a state-mandated placement test. Students who were eligible were given the opportunity
to participate in the study (participation was voluntary). Randomization was done at the
student level. At the start of the study, 1,071 students were eligible to participate in the study;
709 were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 362 to the comparison group.
Among students in the sample, 57% were female. Thirty-seven percent were Black, 32% were
Hispanic, and 25% were White. Seventy percent of the students were between 17 and 20
years old at the start of the study, 81% reported having no children, 16% indicated that their
household was receiving government benefits (such as food stamps or Supplemental Security
Income), 25% indicated that they were receiving financial aid, 56% reported being currently
employed, and 29% reported speaking a language other than English in their home.
Students registered in a learning community that linked a College Success course with
either College Preparatory Reading 1 or College Preparatory Reading 2, depending on how
the student was placed. Both reading courses emphasized vocabulary acquisition, reading
comprehension, and writing to improve literacy development. The College Success course
concentrated on a variety of academic and personal subjects, such as educational goals,
planning, time management, study skills, health concerns, and career counseling. Students
were also informed about other academic resources available to them. Students enrolled in
the reading and College Success courses as a pair, creating the learning communities where
the same small groups (cohorts) of students took the two linked courses together. Notably,
however, the study authors reported that the linking of the curricula across the two courses
did not occur until the study’s final semester.
Students assigned to the comparison group enrolled in any other classes for which they
were eligible or that were required, and they could receive the college’s standard services. All
students who require one or more developmental courses must enroll in a College Success
course; therefore, comparison group students had the option of enrolling in the course as well.
However, they were not required to enroll immediately
Researchers reported outcomes at three points in time: the program semester (i.e., the semester
during which students were enrolled in a learning community), the first semester after the
program, and the second semester after the program. Participation in the learning communities
began in fall 2007, spring 2008, and fall 2008. For a more detailed description of these outcome measures, see Appendix B.
Support for implementation
The learning community model was already in existence at Hillsborough when the study started.
According to the study authors, HCC supported a “paid coordinator who managed the program,
strong support from college leadership, solid buy-in from faculty, and a collaborative relationship
between academic and student affairs divisions.” The paid coordinator’s work from the first
semester of implementation included organization of events and meetings for faculty development
(e.g., strategies for active, collaborative learning and curricular integration), coordination of
workshops and monthly meetings, and oversight of random assignment activities.