Unpacking the Student Experience in Learning Communities Deepens Capacity for Change at Two Colleges

Understanding the student experience is essential in student-centered college redesign, a core principle of guided pathways. One way to gain a deeper understanding of that experience is through focus groups. But gathering student perspectives is only the beginning.

El Camino College (ECC) and East Los Angeles College (ELAC) asked Career Ladders Project to conduct student focus groups on their campuses in spring and summer of 2019. Instead of conducting the focus groups for the colleges, CLP used a train-the-trainer model to build the capacity of the colleges to conduct this research on their own, from design through implementation and analysis. CLP provided the training, cofacilitated some of the focus groups with the college teams, performed an initial round of coding and analysis, and trained college practitioners in identifying and coding emerging themes and transcript analysis.

Part 1 of this brief outlines the train-the-trainer process and illuminates how conducting the focus groups changed the colleges’ and the participants’ overall practice and approach to college redesign. Part 2 details the findings from the focus groups themselves, including insights gained into how the experiences of students who participate in learning communities differed from those of the general college population. For this brief, we drew from established learning communities such as Puente Project, First Year Experience and UmojaProject Success. Learning communities are, in this case, cohorts of students who have classes in common, receive focused support services, and belong to a campus community.

Prepared by Career Ladders Project
December 2020