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Decades of research have shown the efficacy of this model in student engagement and retention (see a brief overview via the Washington Center), and WCU has seen some similar benefits – e.g., the retention rates among our LC students exceeds the university's already strong overall rate (around 80%). We are looking to expand LCs in order to further position our students for success.

Courses fit together around a theme

A LC has multiple courses "linked" around a common theme. Faculty develop a theme and identify courses taught by each faculty member relating to the theme. These courses work together to represent a cohesive program that typically spans from fall and spring semesters, though summer session classes can be included as well. Most LCs at WCU contain four or five courses, but that number is flexible depending on what faculty believe to be the best structure.

For example, a theme from the current year is using virus discovery to build an inclusive scientific community. The LC has courses from Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Health and carries a bacteriophage research project across these courses. Several of these courses are dedicated sections of existing classes (e.g., BIOL 140; CHEM 139) that science students may take anyway, and this LC also has a special topics course that is specific to the LC.

Students take courses together

The same students move through the linked classes together. Sections of the courses are reserved only for students within that LC, a model which has been shown to help create a sense of community and comfort in academic exploration among the students. That community is further developed through class sizes, which tend to be capped at 24 students. Additionally, instructors in those sections can build on the student knowledge and experiences from the other courses in the LC.

Most LCs target incoming first-year students, but others are aimed at sophomores/juniors. It is up to faculty to determine what would be most effective for their theme.

LC culminates in a high impact practice

High-Impact Practices (HIPs) are certain educational practices that have been widely tested and routinely proven beneficial for college students from a wide range of backgrounds (Kuh, 2008). Many of these are being done by WCU faculty already (along with all the other great teaching we do here), and incorporating them into LCs provides even more benefit for students. Our LCs have incorporated several HIPs, including undergraduate research, community-service learning, international experiences, and writing-intensive courses.

Please review the HIP summary on the AAC&U website. It provides overviews of the HIPs: first-year seminars and experiences, common intellectual experiences, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity/global learning, service learning, community-based learning, internships, and capstone courses & projects.

In addition to the positive impacts for students, faculty benefit from LCs as well. LC faculty will...

  • receive funds to use for professional development
  • be given training and professional development through the Coulter Faculty Commons
  • be provided with funds to use for student experiences
  • receive a letter from the Provost in recognition of their work to attach to AFE and TPR review.

Moreover, faculty can enjoy teaching classes of students who tend to academically outperform their non-LC peers and take greater enjoyment from the learning process (Taylor et al., 2003).

How to establish your Learning Community

Work with colleagues within your discipline and/or across other disciplines to identify courses that will fit together and culminate in a HIP. Please note that you do not have to create new courses. Faculty are encouraged to use existing courses that thematically link. In fact, some of the successful LCs use several courses that count for students' majors or for Liberal Studies, since taking those courses keeps students on track for graduation. Discuss the proposed courses with your department heads, who may also have ideas about how to best integrate classes and students.

Contact Travis Bulluck (, x7753) with any questions. Even if you just have an idea at this point and want some guidance, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Applications are submitted with the approvals granted by the relevant DHs and Deans. The Learning Community Steering Committee reviews applications to ensure that the proposal meets the LC guidelines. The committee may also work with the proposing faculty to amend proposals based on known best practices and past lessons learned. The committee then notifies proposing faculty of the LC status in time for upcoming fall courses to be established in January.

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