LAUNCH: Learning Communities

Sumana Datta, Texas A&M University

Program Description

LAUNCH is an acronym that stands for Learning Communities (L), Academic Excellence (A), Undergraduate Research (U), National Fellowships (N), Capstones (C), and Honors (H). LAUNCH is a unit of Undergraduate Studies housed in Academic Affairs under the Provost at Texas A&M University. Learning communities (LCs) are opportunities for students to actively participate in their education. Learning communities connect students with others of similar interests or backgrounds, enrich the learning process, and promote greater student success.

Creating a rich learning environment, learning communities emphasize relationships and community building among students, faculty and staff. LCs usually feature small group interaction, common intellectual experiences, and mentorship from peers and/or faculty. Students gain insight into the context for course material, develop a social network and support, are exposed to new experiences, and develop their critical thinking skills.

Program Goals

To increase the success and retention of first-generation and low-income students, as well as underserved populations. The program also hopes to increase the acquisition of college cultural competency and the diversification of other high-impact practices such as undergraduate research, capstone programs, honors, national fellowship nominations and awards, and other prestigious award and program applications.

Program Activities

Each learning community is unique, but academic success is central to the purpose of those in LAUNCH: Learning Communities. Students are encouraged to form study groups with peers, share perspectives from different academic classes, and reach out for assistance when needed.

The campus provides additional academic support through help desks, supplemental instruction, and free tutoring. Peer mentors will assist students who ask in locating the resources that are available.

Necessary Resources

  • Administrative support, significant budgetary support, and commitment from a campus culture that values first generation/under-represented/low income student success.

Notes and Tips

  • Dos:
    • Coordinate across colleges/units
    • Collaborate with Scholarships and Financial Aid
    • Have sufficient staff support in person hours
  • Don'ts:
    • Succumb to budget constraints
    • Let the campus/political climate affect the work of the program

Evidence of Success

Texas A&M University (TAMU) looks at the retention rate of students in the LAUNCH Learning Communities between their first and second years at the university. The retention rate for first-generation and low-income is in the upper 70%, while retention of students in LAUNCH LC programs is between 90-95%.

Program Costs and ROI

  • Average yearly costs to maintain this initiative: $200,000 -$300,000 plus scholarships for each of 5 learning communities.
  • Average number of individuals served per year by this initiative: 501-750
  • Average annual rate of success for individuals meeting this initiative's goals: 90-100

References and Accessory Materials

LAUNCH: Learning Communities Website