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Published in: Proceedings of the 122nd ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, WA, June 2015.


Living-Learning Communities (LLCs), in which students share a residence, one or more classes, and extracurricular activities, have been shown to improve first-year student engagement, academic performance, and retention in non-engineering fields. Research on Engineering LLCs has focused primarily on student engagement. Two studies to examine performance and retention found that LLCs had little effect on first-semester grades but increased first-year retention in engineering by 2 to 12%. Unfortunately, one of these studies did not control for differences in incoming student characteristics, and another used a comparison group that differed little from the LLC group, possibly causing them to understate the LLC’s true effects. To improve our understanding, this paper examines performance and retention in the inaugural Engineering LLCs at a small, private non-profit, regional university in the northeastern United States.

Results indicate that 82% of the Engineering LLC participants were retained within the engineering program, compared to 66% of first-year engineering students who chose not to participate. More strikingly, the average first-semester GPA of the LLC participants was 0.31 points (nearly a third of a letter grade) higher than that of the non-participants. To address the possibility that these improvements were caused by differences in incoming student characteristics, linear and logistic regression analyses were performed to control for gender, race/ethnicity, SAT scores, and other factors. These analyses suggest that LLC participation increased GPA by 0.35 points compared to first-year engineering students from prior years, while non-participation lowered GPA by 0.07 points. LLC participation increased the odds of retention in the major by 2.3 times compared to first-year students from prior years, while nonparticipation lowered the odds of retention by 1.35 times.