Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Sociology (Applied), PhD

Committee Chair

Carini, Robert

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Gast, Melanie

Committee Member

Gast, Melanie

Committee Member

Negrey, Cynthia

Committee Member

Potter, Deborah

Committee Member

Hirschy, Amy

Author's Keywords

learning community; program evaluation; community college; sociology; developmental reading


Learning communities have become an integral part of higher education. Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of learning communities at colleges and universities. This study, extended over two years, is an in-depth analysis of a learning community program serving developmental reading students at a public, two-year college. A primary aim of the program was to improve students’ reading skills to increase student persistence. In this dissertation, mixed methods were used and data came from six sources: in-depth interviews with students, instructors, and administrators, focus groups with students, a content review of internal and external program documents, pre-post reading test, a student survey, and secondary data that were received from the college. Qualitative data indicated that students and instructors believed that many of the goals of the program were achieved, such as increasing student persistence, improving transition to college-level courses, heightening students’ sense of community, increasing students’ academic and social confidence, and improving students’ attitudes toward reading. Qualitative data also revealed obstacles that the developmental reading students faced: a lack of academic and social self-confidence, family responsibilities, work demands, problems with technology, and difficulty with choosing a career. The learning community program helped students to manage their obstacles in three vital ways: 1) learning to seek help from peers, instructors, and campus staff, 2) acquiring time management skills, and 3) receiving career guidance. There was less quantitative evidence of improvements of student achievement over time. The duration of the program may have been too short to allow for robust quantitative findings. However, quantitative analyses indicated that there were higher levels of involvement, persistence, and class preparedness for learning community students as compared to non-learning community students. Several strengths and weaknesses of the program were identified, and recommendations were made for the program and learning communities at two-year institutions. These recommendations included the following: 1) fully implement team teaching, 2) create and implement an integrative curriculum between courses 3) expand services available to students and require students to partake in some of these services 4) more thorough instructor training for learning communities, and 5) better assessment of the learning community program by faculty and administrators. If properly implemented, these recommendations would likely increase the effectiveness of such learning community programs. A novel combination of theoretical frameworks from the sociology of education literature was applied in this study to better understand learning communities: student departure theory, student involvement theory, forms of capital, and the concepts of “warming up” and “cooling out” from the education literature. The interplay of these ideas is crucial to understanding how learning communities work.