PhD student Sabrina Solanki has been awarded a 2018 National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship. She will be researching learning communities in STEM education: "Do Learning Communities Work in STEM Education? Evaluating the Impact of the Enhanced Academic Success Experience Initiative (EASE) on Student Success."
Low rates of STEM persistence in college have called upon researchers, policymakers, and higher education administrators to consider and evaluate effective, evidence-based solutions. Although an extensive theoretical literature and qualitative evidence points to learning communities as a promising strategy to improve persistence and academic success in college, rigorous quantitative evidence on the impacts of these programs in STEM education is limited. My dissertation provides an evaluation of a two-year learning communities program for incoming Biological Sciences majors at a large public university in California. The program – the Enhanced Academic Student Experience initiative (EASE) – groups hundreds of incoming Biological Sciences majors into cohorts of 30, co-enrolls these student cohorts in all first-year Biology and Chemistry courses, and provides participants with study skills support, increased academic counseling, and weekly meetings with a mentor. Selection into the program is determined by a strict cutoff on SAT math scores, which provides an opportunity to assess the impact of EASE with a regression discontinuity design (RD). Preliminary analyses of the 2016 entering cohort show excellent compliance with the selection cutoff and promising short-run impacts. The proposed study will take advantage of data being collected during the current academic year to: i) examine longer-term outcomes such as two-year cumulative GPA and two-year retention for the 2016 cohort; ii) conduct a replication study of one- and two-year outcomes using data from the 2017 entering cohort; and iii) include in the replication study analyses of social-psychological outcome measures to understand the process by which students may benefit from learning communities.
Ms. Solanki is a fourth year PhD in Education student specializing in Educational Policy and Social Context (EPSC). Her research interests include higher education policy, intervention research, STEM education, economics of education, and teacher labor market policy. She is advised by Distinguished Professor Greg Duncan, Professor George Farkas and Assistant Professor Di Xu.