Freshman learning communities (FLC) are programs where 15 to 30 first-year students register for several general-education courses that focus on a common theme (Jaffee, 2004). Although there are several different types of learning communities, they all are designed for the same purposes. One of the main purposes in implementing freshman learning communities is to assist the students in their transition to a new environment. This acclimation involves becoming better acquainted with the other students, faculty members, campus culture, and academic expectations. However, with freshman learning communities also come negative aspects. Both facets must be evaluated to determine if freshman learning communities are effective.
The greatest advantage in participating in freshman learning communities is the chance to interact and socialize with a group of students known as a cohort. Lichtenstein (2005) noted that these programs are based on the premise that the better the student’s social involvement in the life of the college, the greater chance for academic success. Not only does this cohort of students assist in reducing the anxiety of the transition, but also gives students the social support needed to successfully progress through college (Engberg, 2007). Because of the small size, students are given a greater chance of participating, discussion, and overall getting to know one another. Students in learning communities not only tend to form their own support groups that extend beyond the classroom, but also spend more time together outside of class (Tinto 2000). Discussions outside of class, social activities, and study groups are all encouraged to participate in as a cohort.
Since students are usually grouped by commonalities, there is a lack in their interaction with diverse peers in the classroom. As Jaffee (2007) noted, “Community, in this sense, is largely based on the common age and academic inexperience of the students.” An exposure to diversity is very important, as it has shown an increase across a number of student outcomes, such as openness to diversity and challenge, critical thinking, cultural knowledge, leadership, and moral reasoning (Engberg, 2007). In addition, this exposure to diversity will bring attributes that will be transferable to the workforce. In some freshman learning communities, the students are not only in class together, but living together as well.
Jaffee (2004) found the following:
“Although a great deal of communication can help them learn, it also means that misinformation will spread rapidly among them, their attitudes about professors and course material can be hardened through “group think,” and faculty members- as the outsiders- may find it difficult to compete with the students’ communication network.”
Spending so much time together gives little opportunity for...