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First-Year Engineering Living-Learning Communities Improve Four-Year Graduation Rates at a Small Private University

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 1: Student Success Boot Camps, Summer Bridge Programs, and Living Learning Communities

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Paper Authors


William Palm Roger Williams University

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William Palm is Associate Professor of Engineering and Director of the Honors Program at Roger Williams University, where he has taught Engineering Graphics and Design, Machine Design, Manufacturing and Assembly, Materials Science, Biomechanics, Medical Device Design, and other courses. Prior to joining Roger Williams, he worked as a product design engineer and consultant and taught at Boston University and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is licensed as a Professional Engineer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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This complete research paper assesses the long-term benefits of first-year student participation in an Engineering Living-Learning Community (ELLC) at a relatively small private university in the northeastern United States. Prior research on ELLCs has examined short-term results such as first-year student engagement, academic performance, and retention, but relatively few studies have reported data on long-term outcomes such as graduation rates and GPA at graduation. This paper reports the outcomes of four cohorts of Engineering students who entered the study university between 2013 and 2016.

During that time, 115 entering students participated in the ELLC, while 162 participated in LLCs organized around a general education course or in no LLC. Members of each ELLC resided together in an on-campus dormitory and had their own section of a first-semester Engineering Graphics and Design course. The non-ELLC students enrolled in other sections of the same course that were identical in design and delivery. Outside of the course, the ELLC sections participated together in a community service day, an Engineering-themed field trip, two Engineering-themed on-campus events, and two meals with their course instructor during their first year. Each ELLC housing unit also had a Resident Assistant majoring in Engineering. Students in the general education LLCs lived in mixed-major housing and completed a similar number of co-curricular activities, but they were not Engineering-themed. Neither ELLC nor general education LLC activities and housing extended past the first year.

Students participating in the ELLC had significantly higher 4-year graduation rates in Engineering (55.7% vs. 42%) and in STEM (64.3% vs. 51.2%), and higher 4-year graduation rates from the university (66.1% vs. 56.8%). Although the average first-semester GPA of ELLC participants was significantly higher than that of non-participants (3.15 vs. 2.82), this difference faded over time. The average GPA at graduation for ELLC Engineering graduates was 3.22, compared to 3.12 for non-Honors non-ELLC Engineering graduates.

To determine whether the ELLC's superior outcomes might be explained by differences in incoming student characteristics between the ELLC and non-ELLC groups, or by student participation in other programs such as a first-year seminar or athletics, multinomial logistic and linear regression were used to control for high school GPA, SAT scores, initial course placements, and other factors. The results indicate that ELLC participation doubled the odds of four-year graduation in Engineering or STEM over non-participation, both significant effects, and increased graduation GPA in Engineering by 0.07 points.

This study suggests that a relatively modest intervention implemented in the first year alone may have lasting benefits on student retention and performance. This is particularly noteworthy given that the study institution is small, with only about 3,700 undergraduates and 250 Engineering students. Most studies showing benefits of ELLCs have been conducted at large universities, where the ELLC provides a sense of community within the larger campus. The present results show that ELLC’s have benefits even in small programs that might be thought to have less need for the community development an LLC provides.

Palm, W. (2022, August), First-Year Engineering Living-Learning Communities Improve Four-Year Graduation Rates at a Small Private University Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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