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Feature   | Summer 2012

Learning communities foster retention, relationships

In this together

Adrienne Gorny & Coleen Hartel
Adrienne Gorny and Colleen Hartel were nearly inseparable their freshman year at Purdue.

The College of Agriculture students took classes together, studied together and went on educational field trips together. As if that wasn't enough, they even ate meals together and lived in residence hall rooms next door to each other.
(Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

Although the two had never met before they arrived in West Lafayette—Gorny is from Canton, Mich., and Hartel from Darien, Ill.—they became best of friends not long after setting foot on campus.

Being part of a learning community will do that.

"I went to a really small high school, so coming to Purdue was kind of a huge culture shock with all these people," says Gorny, 19, a plant biology major. "But getting involved with a learning community helped me get to know people on a more personal level."

It kept them focused on their education, too, Hartel says. The College of Agriculture Dean's Scholars Learning Community that she and Gorny joined in fall 2010 inspired Hartel to work harder academically.

"You see other people in your learning community and think, 'Oh, they're studying for that exam, so I should be studying for that exam,'" says Hartel, 20, a wildlife major. "Or they might invite you to study for that exam with them. So you study a little bit more because someone's right there to push you along."

Getting Settled
Gorny's and Hartel's stories are common among Purdue students who join learning communities. They often speak of how their involvement helped them more quickly adapt to college life and provided a sense of belonging on a sprawling campus of more than 30,000 undergraduates.

Learning communities, or LCs, group together students of similar academic and/or career interests. Group members enroll in many of the same courses and share after-class activities. Some LCs, like Dean's Scholars, require members to reside in the same residence hall.

Learning Community
Agricultural education faculty Allen Talbert (above, left) and Jerry Peters (middle) join with students from the Agricultural Education Learning Community for some holiday fun, marking the LC’s final event for 2011 and the end of fall semester.

The Dean’s Scholars Learning Community helped Adrienne Gorny (far right) and Colleen Hartel (left) excel academically and forge a lasting friendship. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

The goal of learning communities is to ease the transition from high school to college by helping students better connect with peers, faculty, staff and campus resources in order to promote better academic performance and graduation rates.

"We know if students connect with each other in the university they tend to stay, do better, persist and get out with a degree," says Jim Pukrop, senior assistant director of Purdue's Student Access, Transition and Success Programs (SATS) and learning communities coordinator. "We have a roughly 4-percent higher retention rate, on average, among students who participate in learning communities versus those who do not. And if you start breaking it down demographically, such as by gender or ethnicity, you'll see something more in the 7-11 percent range."


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