The purpose of this study was to identify instructional strategies and support services of five learning community programs that focus on the retention of African American students at California Community Colleges. Empirical research indicates that colleges and universities have historically structured their curricula, student services programs, and campus environments based on White middle-class norms. A number of previous studies have suggested the effectiveness of the freshman seminar and learning-community models in helping institutions retain students of color.
The conceptual framework of this research study is grounded in the notion that it takes a community of educators to promote academic excellence and achievement in African American students. The five learning community programs have been in existence for more than 18 years and are located at community colleges in the northern and southern regions of California. The researcher collected data for this study of 95 students from two sources: surveys and interviews with program coordinators.
The student questionnaire items were categorized into six areas: (a) learning preferences, (b) defining/focusing on academic and career goals, (c) impact of learning community/cohort design, (d) counseling, (e) support, and (f) students' background information, including ethnicity, gender, age, current academic year, and graduation and transfer status.
The three critical research questions analyzed were the following: (1) What are the perceptions and experiences of students in these programs? (2) What instructional strategies/practices work best in the classroom when teaching African American students? (3) Do support services, such as mentoring, tutoring, and counseling correlate with academic achievement?
The second set of data were collected from all program coordinators. The coordinator interview schedule was categorized into three areas: (a) general information, (b) faculty development/staff training, and (c) assessment and evaluation.
For the first research question, frequency distribution tables and descriptive statistical techniques, reflecting means and standard deviations were used to identify students' overall perceptions of and satisfaction with the program structure. For the second research question, means and standard deviations of the entire sample and comparisons by college were reported to illustrate which variables best indicate the instructional strategies or support services participants favored. For the third research question, multiple regression analyses and Pearson correlations were used to determine which support services (i.e., mentoring, tutoring, and counseling) were associated with student participants demonstrating high levels of academic achievement. Finally, additional analyses included program coordinators' open-ended comments during the interviews. Data from coordinator interviews were used by the researcher to better understand their perspective of their programs' structure, mission, and effectiveness in African American student retention.
The results of both the quantitative and qualitative analyses support the research premise that the majority of students prefer to study or work in groups either during or outside of class, prefer to meet with teachers or tutors one-to-one outside of class, and prefer to communicate with instructors and classmates online. Moreover, the data suggest that some student participants in the study prefer different modes of instruction and communication. The findings also suggest that guidance/counseling courses were instrumental in helping students obtain information about the college, develop stronger study skills, and access support services such as tutoring. Furthermore, multiple regression and Pearson correlations show that there are correlations among students' grade point averages, peer mentoring/tutoring, and guidance/counseling. African American students often thrive in environments that use multimedia and multimodal teaching strategies.