Freshman Learning Communities and Friendship Segregation Within College Majors

Wesley Jeffrey, David R. Schaefer, Brian Sato


An increasing number of colleges and departments are implementing Freshman Learning Communities (FLCs) to aid the transition from high school to college for the growing number of underrepresented minorities (URMs) entering higher education in the United States. FLCs are built on the premise that academic and social integration within the college community are key to academic success, and in practice, involve structuring common coursework and discussion groups to promote connections among students. Although research finds numerous positive academic outcomes that stem from FLCs, it is important to ensure that organizational practices do not have potentially negative, unintended consequences. Namely, since FLCs concentrate activity among students, if placement into the program strongly overlaps with disadvantaged group memberships (e.g., racial/ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, achievement, etc.), then the FLC may simultaneously foster friendships within the structured cohort at the expense of potentially beneficial friendships with peers outside the marginalized group. In this study, we use complete network data on 879 students from an entering freshman cohort, within a STEM major, at a diverse university in the western U.S. to examine whether friendships developed through the FLC are associated with segregation on other axes (e.g., ethnicity, academic performance, etc.). We use an Exponential-family Random Graph Model (ERGM) to test the effect of joint FLC membership on friendship, controlling for homophily, propinquity, and structural network processes. Overall, this study will shed light on network dynamics among young adults in college, a context that has received less attention compared to adolescents in high school.

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