UNCG is investing in learning communities. And administrators say that investment is paying off for both students and the university.

“We are on the forefront,” says Laura Pipe, director of learning communities. “The size of our program and our chancellor’s commitment to learning communities is bigger than other institutions.”

As a result, UNCG is getting national attention. Universities like Rutgers have called Pipe to pick her brain. She is also working with Western Carolina University to launch a web magazine and establish a statewide learning community listserv.

Learning communities grew out of an earlier push toward the Residential College (RC) model that took place in the 1920s. UNCG’s Ashby Residential College began in 1970 and is now the oldest residential college in North Carolina. The university’s Strong and Grogan residential colleges followed in 1994 and 1997.

“Institutions began to outgrow the residential colleges,” Pipe says. While older communities like Ashby are still thriving and serving their purpose, UNCG has necessarily turned its attention to less formal LLCs (Living-Learning Communities) and LCs (Learning Communities).

How do RCs, LLCs and LCs differ? Pipe sums up UNCG’s three learning community models simply: “It’s almost like a spectrum. How engaged do you want to be?”

“RCs are the most intense,” Pipe says. “Students live together, and in the case of Ashby, take their entire Gen Ed curriculum together. They have faculty members who are spending a lot of time in the residence hall, holding courses in the residence hall, spending a lot of time doing extra programming in the physical residence hall space.”

Pipe concedes that RCs aren’t a good fit for all students. “Not every student needs or even wants that full experience.”

LLCs represent the next level. “They take the course structure, with those integrated learning components, and they also live together on the same floor,” Pipe says. “A faculty member might come into the residence hall a couple times out of the year.”

At the minimum end of the spectrum are LCs. Some courses are integrated; there are outside events and speakers. Students don’t necessarily live together, making LCs ideal for commuters.

Last year – the first year of existence for Pipe’s office, housed in Undergraduate Studies – more than 500 freshmen, about 18-20 percent of the first-year class at UNCG, were part of learning communities. That number exceeded the benchmark of 15 percent.

The benchmark this fall was 30 percent. Pipe says the final numbers should come in just over that, at 31-32 percent, or more than 900 first-year students.

“Most of the research out there shows that students in learning communities are much more likely to stay at an institution and graduate,” Pipe says. “Students in learning communities have higher GPAs. Students in learning communities are much more involved on campus. But those are all by-products of what’s really happening: What’s really happening is that students are truly becoming part of the academy.”

If you would like more details on UNCG’s many learning community options, click here.

For more in-depth reportage on learning communities at UNCG, read “Learning to Succeed,” a feature in the Fall 2012 UNCG Magazine.

Photography by David Wilson, University Relations