Exploring student perceptions of first year in college: impact of living-learning program on performance and retention of underprepared students

This mixed methods study evaluated the perceptions, performance and retention of students participating in the inaugural year of a living-learning program designed to support the needs of underprepared students of color. A survey was distributed to 1,004 FTFT students (N = 278) taking first year English followed by a focus group (N = 9) to further understand program participant experiences. Institutional data were used to analyze student performance and retention across three comparison groups. This student support program was designed to close the performance and persistence gap for underprepared students of color living in residence at a medium sized university in the California Central Valley. Program participants reported frequent use of professional academic advising and major advising, which had a positive effect on student performance. Utilization of support services, including the writing center, disability resources, peer mentoring, was high among program participants, a positive outcome from program participation. Results of the study indicate the program was successful in closing the gap between students participating in the program and comparable students not participating in the program. Students participating in the program reported higher rates of satisfaction with their support program compared to other students participating in programs without a residential component. Findings indicate faculty mentoring had a positive outcome on student success. Understanding program design and outcomes can inform practitioners of effective Student Affairs and Academic Affairs partnerships with positive impacts to students’ performance and decisions to persist.