The Sky is the Limit: A Learning Community for Undeclared Students--A Sustainable Investment in Student Success and Retention

Thursday 10:30am - 11:00am Woodlawn I
Oral Presentation

Stacey Barnes, Iowa State University
Jenifer N. Saldanha, Michigan State University
MaKayla B. Schroeder, Minnesota State University Moorhead
Andrew J. Sage, Lawrence University
Jo Anne Powell-Coffman, Iowa State University
Craig Ogilvie, Iowa State University
Clark Coffman, Iowa State University
Student learning communities have proven to be a consistently powerful strategy for promoting student success. At Iowa State University, approximately 78% of freshmen belong to learning communities, and this correlates with increases in student retention (average increase of 5.9% learning community over non-learning community 2015-2017 one-year retention) and graduation rates (average increase 7.5% 2010-2013 five-year graduation rates). Learning communities are clearly impacting student persistence and success. Students who enter college without a declared major are at an increased risk of dropping out, and they are less likely to be associated with a learning community, since most learning communities are associated with student majors. The Sky is the Limit learning community was specifically created for undeclared students (600-700 per year in our Liberal Arts and Sciences College) with aims including providing students with a sense of belonging, encouraging explorations of majors and careers, and increasing students' overall awareness of campus resources. Since its inception in the fall of 2015, The Sky is the Limit has consistently shown an increase in yearly retention rates for undeclared students (average increase 7.5% one-year retention 2015-2017). Pre and post surveys demonstrate an increase in students' confidence levels about their ability to select a major or career path and to prepare a good resume. Qualitative data obtained from focus groups in the 2016 cohort indicated that students in The Sky is the Limit made strong connections to their peer mentors in the learning community and were better able to connect with campus resources. Our positive outcomes and experiences with offering a learning community for undeclared students argue that the minimal resources required to establish and maintain a learning community represent a wise and sustainable investment of institutional resources resulting in improved retention, student success, and integration into the institutional community