The first-year student experience: examining student satisfaction and the use of learning communities in the first year of college.

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The first-year student experience: examining student satisfaction and the use of learning communities in the first year of college.

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The first year of college is unique and important for many reasons that warrant focused research. Students are often solely responsible for making many academic decisions for the first time as well as living relatively, independently away from home. One apparent consequence of these challenges is that this is the peak time for dropping out of college. Schools have designed many interventions to influence and improve the first-year experience, such as first-year seminars, learning communities, campus-wide initiatives to improve satisfaction and commitment, and different techniques used to enhance engagement and learning in the classroom. Therefore, it is important to examine the effects of many variables in this first year of college. Considerable research has focused on this critical first year. One thing believed to be important as both a dependent and an independent variable is a student's global satisfaction. The first study, a meta-analysis of satisfaction correlates, addresses the conflicting results found in the student satisfaction literature for first-year students. This study provides clear evidence for the multidimensional nature of satisfaction, as satisfaction facets result in differential relationships with other variables. In addition, this meta-analysis demonstrates that satisfaction has an important relationship with a variety of higher education outcomes. Overall, the results of this meta-analysis have important implications for retention in schools as well as future research on satisfaction. Currently, most university administrators recognize that satisfaction, performance in school, and retention are important variables to monitor. One common intervention that many schools are currently using to manipulate students' attitudes toward school is the learning community model. This intervention is perceived as cost effective and having a positive effect on retention and performance. Learning communities come in many different forms, but all have a similar organizational goal--to create a smaller social community within the larger college, often linked to an increase in faculty attention. Study 2 examines the effects of involvement in a learning community on retention, grades, and satisfaction at graduation. Involvement in a learning community had a significant positive relationship with both first-year retention and retention over time. In fact, students who did not participate in learning communities were more prone to drop out prior to graduation, even after accounting for background variables. The results of this study also show that students who were involved in a learning community had significantly higher first-year and cumulative GPAs. The findings of this study did not demonstrate a relationship between involvement in a learning community and end of school satisfaction. Overall, these results indicate that some aspect of the learning community program is contributing to better student outcomes.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2010. Major: Psychology. Advisor: Nathan R. Kuncel, 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 89 pages.

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Murphy, Sara Cooper. (2010). The first-year student experience: examining student satisfaction and the use of learning communities in the first year of college.. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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