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From: 	James Limbaugh  
Sent:	Friday, February 02, 2007 10:58 AM
To:	[log in to unmask]
Subject:	Dropping a Course from a Learning Community

I offer a response to the following request for information posted by
Marcie Carter...

I am working with our Learning Community Advisory Board on an issue in
regard to students who enroll in a learning community and then decide
they want to drop one of the courses.  

The group is struggling with the overall effect that has on the
community and whether the student should be de-enrolled from the
remaining community courses.

Have any of you dealt with this issue?  What resolutions have you
determined work for students?

We are struggling with the effect this may have on financial aid and
completion ratios. 

Frostburg State University's learning community program has been in
effect since fall of 1997, with students enrolling on an elective basis.
As of fall 2005, the University implemented learning communities for all
entering students; as a result, we offered 50 communities, providing
exploration of every major offered, for 1014 students.  Our communities
include a maximum of eight hours, one of which is a first-year seminar.
About 80% of the communities use the embedded model (e.g., the
first-year cohort is part of a larger lecture section), while the
remainder have dedicated sections (e.g., the only students in a
particular class are learning community students).

Dropping a learning community course is predicated on existing
University policy as to what courses can and cannot be dropped; in our
case, the restriction applies only to composition courses and our
first-year seminar.  We can't stop students from dropping other courses.
So our policy for learning communities is basically as follows:

1.  During the free drop/add period, if a student wants to drop a
community course, then I, as the community director, work with him/her
personally to find out the reasons why (this is particularly important
because the majority of our communities will be comprised of only a
first-year seminar and one content course).  Often, I will move that
student to another community more appropriate for his/her interests.

2.  After free drop/add, a student can drop a course if he/she is having
academic problems.  I don't have the authority to keep a student in a
course that he/she can't handle just to keep a community intact.  

3.  Is there an effect on the community?  Possibly, depending on how
active the community is in terms of ancillary activities and the role
that student played.  Is there an impact on the student?  Yes, in that
the student dropping the content course attends only the higher-ed
seminar and, as a result, misses out on the connections made to content,
test preparation, etc.   However, we made the institutional decision
that providing every student a learning community experience had
advantages that outweighed the disadvantages, and our experience this
past fall was that those relatively few students who dropped classes
after free drop/add did so well into the semester and after they had
already made friendships with students and connections with faculty.  So
our goal for the communities--of helping students become connected--was
accomplished even though a student eventually withdrew from one of the
courses.

In considering my comments, an important caveat should be noted:  Our
communities are designed to help students be successful in the
transition from high school to college, by making connections with other
students that may have similar interests (in fact, parents have told us
that they like that their children attend FSU because "we give their
children something to belong to as soon as they arrive"). We have scaled
back on emphasizing the academic linkages because we realized that we
needed to do more work with helping students adjust.

By the way, our learning community program, during the eight years it
was elective, consistently retained students at a higher rate than that
achieved by non-community students, so we so no negative impact on
completion rates.

I hope our experience helps with your conversations.

Jim Limbaugh
Assistant to the Provost
Frostburg State University
Frostburg, MD 21532
301.687.4489


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