More than half of the students who enroll in community colleges leave after one year without completing degrees or certificates. Framing the problem of low persistence rates as one of identity development rather than skills development, this study examines the perceptions of first-semester students in two developmental reading and writing learning communities at an urban community college that serves a diverse student population. The
researcher conducted interviews with students and teachers at the beginning and end of the semester, observed class sessions, and analyzed student writing. Three-quarters of the students in the study were recent high school graduates and more than half of them immigrated to the U.S. with their families, most of them while they were still in elementary or secondary school. Almost 80% of the students were bilingual. Emerging from the data is
evidence of students' negotiations of their identities as college students. The study describes the teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning, evidence of their beliefs in practice, and the classroom environments the teachers and students create. Using a theoretical framework based on constructive developmental psychology and sociocultural learning theory, the researcher documents connections between shifts in students' perceptions of themselves as college students and the activities they engage in during their
first semester at college. Contributing to students' emerging identities as college students are changes in their ideas about reading, writing, career and education goals, grades and learning, and relationships with peers and family. The study contributes to an understanding of connections between learning and identity development and has implications for classroom practice in first-year courses, design of developmental education programs, and professional development of community college faculty.