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Learning Communities


San Diego City College Learning Communities  combine classes that complement and support each other and offer students an opportunity for a richer learning experience. Innovative faculty design activities based around a common social justice theme to create an exciting educational experience. Students develop learning teams and progress together through multiple courses and sometimes multiple semesters. Statistics show that Learning Community participants achieve higher grades and are better prepared for transfer to four-year universities.

At The Core:

Interdisciplinary Education - Student and teachers learn to pull together ideas and concepts from many subject areas, which enables them to tackle real-world issues. 
Linking Theory and Practice - Students understand abstract theories by applying them to projects and activities by putting them into practice in real world situations. 
Teaching & Learning Across Significant Differences - Students learn to recognize, respect and bridge differences--critical skills in an increasingly diverse world. 
Personal Engagement in Learning - Students develop their capacities to judge, speak and act on the basis of their own reasoned beliefs. 
Collaborative Learning - Students develop knowledge and skills through shard learning, rather than learning in isolation and in competition with others.   


The mission of the Learning Communities is to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment that promotes the highest educational, intellectual and social development for students.


Learning Community students will achieve the following goals:

  • Success: Persist at San Diego City College, achieve academic success and accomplish their educational goals.
  • Responsibility: Effectively transition to college level learning by becoming actively involved and taking responsibility for their own learning.
  • Relationships: Develop closer social and intellectual relationships with other Learning Community faculty and students from different cultures and majors. This is the foundation of the Learning Community.
  • Critical Thinking: Gain knowledge and develop critical thinking skills by connecting ideas from different disciplines.
  • Personal Experience: Achieve learning that is deeper and more personally relevant through service learning and experiential activities.
  • Individuality: Exercise their creativity, develop their identity and discover their voice.  Learning becomes a part of who the student is, not just something the student does.
  • Global Perspective: Evolve into life-long scholars, conscious citizens and ethical leaders by integrating what they learn into their world view and other academic and social experiences. 

Our Learning Community History 

The Learning Community Story: A Pedagogy of Love by Elva Salinas, San Diego City College Learning Community Coordinator October, 2015

The learning community program at San Diego City College is of an organic, collective and passionate inception. In the fall of 2006, a unique professional development experience was implemented; the Title V Hispanic Serving Institution Grant funded this opportunity.  Twenty-five participants, including administrators, faculty, staff and students attended the weekly, semester long class, focused on increasing the retention and success of Hispanics and other marginalized students on our campus.  We brought in an educational "heavy hitter" to facilitate this course: Dr. Patrick Velasquez from UCSD. Velasquez shared cutting edge research and theories on the topic. Velasquez shared the article, "Learning Better Together: The Impact of Learning Communities on Student Success," by Dr. Vincent Tinto. The points Tinto made in his article resonated with the participants who unanimously decided that it was important to expose the rest of the campus to his pedagogical ideas. The acceptance and application of Tinto's ideas by participants resulted in the creation of "Cafe Vincent Tinto to Go."

Dr. Tinto is an esteemed higher education researcher most noted for his work on the impact of learning communities (LCOM) on student growth, retention and academic success. He was invited to lead a two-day intensive, interactive seminar for our Spring 2007 convocation. More than 125 participants were organized into diverse working groups--which included administrators, faculty, counselors, staff, and students.  They were asked to identify barriers to student success and develop strategies to address those problems. The outcome was exciting. The idea of implementing a LCOM program organically surfaced from these dynamic discussions. On that second day, we decided to move forward to develop an LCOM program: as Rafael Alvarez put said, "we decided to dive into the deep end of the pool--with no floaties." 

The professional development coordinator, Professor Elva Salinas, took on the role of LCOMs' coordinator and was given .40 release time (has since been reduced to .20) to worked closely with the Title V project director, Rafael Alvarez, to conduct research, write curriculum, identify and train faculty and counselors. A learning communities committee was organized which consisted of the curriculum chair, enrollment specialist, student services and instructional deans, potential LCOM faculty, tutoring directors, counselors and students. Research was conducted at Grossmont College--which boasted a very vibrant and respected learning community program under the directorship of Sue Jensen.  Her generosity in sharing best practices, pitfalls, and success were invaluable in the creation of our program. In just a few months, in the fall of 2007, the first LCOMs were offered as a pilot at San Diego City College. Those first faculty pioneers are to be commended: Nadia Mandalawi, Jan Jarrell, Elizabeth Meehan, Susan Hasegawa, Virginia Escalante, Enrique Davalos, Justin Akers-Chacon, Jennifer Boots, Misael Camarena and Rodrigo Reyes.

It is important to note that other LCOMs, including the Puente program (taught from a Chicana/o perspective) as well as the Umoja program (taught from an African American perspective and subsequently called the Transfer Success Program), were already in full swing on our campus and achieving excellent results. In addition, we had a robust Honors program that was team-taught and led by Dr. Kelley Mayhew. The mission was to scale up and intentionally incorporate best practices from these programs by inviting professors and counselors working in these successful programs to conduct workshops at ongoing professional development activities. A special thank-you is in order to Professors Mary Coleman and Maria Figueroa, and counselors Dr. Luis Perez and Dr. Erin Charlens for providing their pedagogical DNA.

In the early years we found that the developmental courses were fairly easy to fill; however, college level English courses linked with Chicano/a History were more difficult, respectively. Our campus decided to "carry" these classes with low enrollment for a few semesters until we could gather an adequate amount of data, spread the word, and build momentum by leveraging LCOM students as ambassadors. Student retention and success data determined that students in LCOMS did significantly better than in stand-alone classes. The program grew quickly. The focus remained on providing challenging learning experiences along with a high degree of support for students enrolled in basic skills courses. In addition, a few college level English courses linked with gatekeeper courses have historically been offered.

Scaling Up: Proposal for New Learning Communities - Professional Development is an integral component for expansion, effectiveness and sustainability of LCOMS. Our comprehensive PD program involves a practice we call LCOM Cafes.  Faculty partners meet in teams every two weeks with a dual purpose. The first hour is spent engaging with scholarship on theory and practice in LCOMs; the second hour to discuss highlights and challenges in their classrooms and to collaboratively develop and share integrative lesson plans.  Participants read current literature on student retention and success, and learn how LCOMs can support college wide initiatives such as FYE, SSSP, Equity, Title V, etc. Articles from the Washington Center on LCOMs provide the foundation for the Cafes.  This process is also used as a "training" space for anyone who is interested in creating a new LCOM or teaching in one. We now have faculty from Anthropology, Geography, Biology, Math, and History who are not currently teaching in a linked LCOM but who are participating in the Learning Community Passion Project Program. In addition, this professional development activity provides participants who are interested in conducting more research, the opportunity to earn upper division units through San Diego State University in a course titled, Theory and Practice in Learning Communities at San Diego City College EDU 997. This professional development space is where much of the innovation for our LCOMs has taken place. Our teams have adopted social justice as the overarching theme and developed the Passion Project Program. Participants emerged organically out of the LCOM Cafes. Students in a wide range of classes, not just those formally linked through the LCOM program, are developing and sharing their Passion Projects via our Passion Project Symposiums that are held each semester. Our latest development--which is a collaboration with the athletics counselor and our team-- resulted in an LCOM for athletes that takes these students from basic skills English (ENG 47A) to college level English (ENG 101) in one year through sports-focused English and Philosophy courses.   

Learning Community Retreat - Another effective professional development activity is conducted as the last LCOM Cafe. All partners for the subsequent semester are invited to a one day Learning Community Retreat to plan for their classes. The focus is to design integrated lessons that incorporate current events, topics and guest speakers from the Social Justice Conference, World Cultures, International Border Conference, Book Fair, VAMP, and other community organizations. 

National and Statewide Collaborations - One of the most vital components of our LCOM journey has been the support of the Washington Center for Learning Communities and the CLCC. Our team attended the first annual CLCC California Learning Communities Consortium Institute in Spring of 2008. There, we met Gillies Malnarich, the Co-Director of the Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education. We invited her to conduct a hands-on workshop on integrative learning at our first LCOM institute in Jacumba, California. Malnarich guided us through her educational philosophy: she later published these ideas with Emily Lardner in the work, "Learning Communities Done Well." Malnarich and Lardner's theoretical framework profoundly influenced our subsequent work. In 2012, Anna Rogers and Elva Salinas were appointed to the CLCC Leadership Team. In partnership, Rogers and Salinas made it possible for San Diego City College to host the CLCC Conference in Spring 2012. Every year, our college has sent a team to the CLCC Institute and CLCC LCOM Coordinator meetings. Each semester our LCOM program collaborates with the Washington Center the National Resource Center for Learning Communities in a national research project focused on students in LCOMs. Our students complete an online survey, the Washington Center sends us our results, which are then used by our faculty to revise our curriculum and professional development program. 

The Future - More pilot work is currently being done. This year, we started a LCOM that is being targeted to our athletics population. Fall semester is ENGL 47A (Accelerated Basic Skills English) with PERG 120 (Personal Growth). In the next semester, the same cohort of students will move to ENGL 101 and PHIL 108 (Perspectives on Human Nature and Society). The entire year of classes will be taught from an athletics perspective. This spring we will be piloting our first full STEM LCOM.  It will combine CHEM 100, CHEM 100L, and BIO107 and be taught from a human health perspective. The LCOM cohort will be linked through the Chemistry and Biology labs. LCOMs have become and will continue to be an integral part of San Diego City College's student success programs. Our First Year Experience program directs incoming freshman to the LCOMs program. There are opportunities to link STEM with Humanities, accelerated English and Math, accelerated English courses with gatekeeper courses, academic pathways perspective English classes with gatekeeper courses--to name a few.  Our LCOMs continue to be a labor of love; our faculty and staff are involved because they are passionate and determined to create the best educational experiences for and with our students.


Elva Salinas


Randy Barnes

Dean - Learning Communities
(619) 388-3488

Yvonne Schmeltz

Learning Community Assistant
619) 388.3208