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Social Capital and the Academic Experience in College Residential Learning Communities


Evidence suggests that social capital developed through social networks is critical for individuals to succeed in education and in careers. The on-campus college residence hall is one environment where college students have the opportunity to build social networks that support their academic and social development. On today’s campus learning communities are often used to provide additional influence. However, not all students develop positive social relationships in these settings. This qualitative study investigates how fourteen male and female first year students of various ethnicities navigate the social networks in a variety of different residential living learning communities. The study was conducted at a large public university and focuses on how the students gain information that contributes to their academic experience.

Findings suggest that participants perceived the overall impact of the learning community and the residence hall experience to be positive. More specifically, insight is provided into students’ drive to succeed, social ties with small groups, social ties with faculty and staff, and the impact of the built environment. Implications for practice are discussed and suggestions are made that may help to cultivate and direct the development of social capital for students in the residence hall and in the learning community setting.

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