A recently published study says community-college students who are low-income and academically unprepared appear to benefit from being placed in effective "learning communities" where they take classes together and can give each other support.
Two Syracuse University-based researchers--Cathy McHugh Engstrom, an associate professor of higher education, and Vincent Tinto, a professor of education--conducted the study by surveying and tracking the progress of students at 13 community colleges around the nation. They compared 1,600 low-income and unprepared freshmen who been placed in learning communities, taking remedial classes together, with nearly 2,300 who had not been placed in such groups.
In an article published in the journal Opportunity Matters the two researchers say they found that the learning-community students were more likely than the others to report feeling engaged in their studies, and were more positive than the others in their perceptions of how much encouragement they received on their campus and how much they had intellectually progressed.
The researchers caution in their article that the learning-community programs they studied were by no means representative of all such programs. To be included in the study, the programs had to focus on teaching basic skills and had to serve the full spectrum of students widely regarded as "at risk," including those who had low incomes, or were members of minority groups, immigrants, or members of the first generation of their families to attend college. Perhaps more importantly, all of the community colleges involved had previously gathered some evidence demonstrating that the programs on their campuses were effective in helping academically unprepared students.
The Chronicle of Higher Education offers more details on the study, as well as similar research dealing with four-year colleges, here.