Iowa State University’s program to enroll new students in learning communities has been cited as a national model for colleges across the nation for helping students stay in school and obtain degrees.

Iowa State offers 84 learning communities that give freshmen mentoring and peer support to adapt to the changes they encounter when they enroll in college. Students are placed in communities with other students who share the same major. Nearly 300 upperclassmen serve as mentors for the groups.

The program, established in 1995, is designed to improve retention, graduation rates, student satisfaction, and student engagement. This year, 3,225 freshmen, or 71 percent of first-year students, are members of learning communities, putting Iowa State among the top 4 percent of 600 universities that offer student mentoring programs, according to U.S.News and World Report.

The program is making a positive contribution to student retention and graduation rates. Eighty-nine percent of learning community participants returned to school for their sophomore year, compared with 81 percent retention of nonparticipants. And 74 percent of Iowa State learning community participants graduated within six years, compared with 62 percent of nonparticipants at Iowa State and 58 percent of college students nationally.

The University Innovation Alliance, an initiative by 10 leading research institutions across the United States to boost graduation rates, has cited Iowa State’s learning communities as a national model for student retention.