Do Learning Communities Work in STEM Education? Evaluating the Impact of the Enhanced Academic Success Experience (EASE) Initiative on Student Success
Sabrina Solanki

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Irvine

Primary Discipline

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.
About Sabrina Solanki
Sabrina Solanki is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on higher education policy, teacher effectiveness, STEM education, and the evaluation of education interventions.Sabrina received her B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. While serving as an academic counselor through the UCLA Early Academic Outreach Program, Sabrina developed an interest in working with young adults. This experience motivated her to continue to impact young adults by becoming a public high school teacher after graduating with her MAT at the University of California, Irvine. Sabrina developed the economics program at Beckman High School, where she taught AP Microeconomics for several years. Sabrina’s experience as an educator allowed her to work with a diverse group of students. In doing so, she saw the challenges that the education system faces in educating all students equally. This motivated her to seek to better understand the problems in our education system and how to evaluate effective, evidence-based solutions. Prior to beginning her Ph.D., Sabrina received her Master’s in Public Policy from UCI. Her capstone project revolved around the impact of University Bridge Programs on college success for low-income, first-generation students.As a Ph.D. student, Sabrina has spent her time working on a number of diverse research projects that focus on improving the college experience and learning outcomes for students, using both quasi-experimental and experimental designs. She is currently completing her dissertation which is an evaluation of a two-year learning communities program for incoming Biological Sciences majors and its impact on both academic and non-academic outcomes.

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