New Learning Models in Higher Education: How Paired Learning Communities Help Retain Faculty of Color

Academic faculty explore unique teaching methods to retain faculty of color and support historically underrepresented scholars. 

Reviewed by Nick Spragg


Only 20% of full-time faculty in American higher education are faculty of color (FOC). Given the growing population of underrepresented minority (URM students), the slow growth of full-time faculty of color in academia is a concern. However, when faculty of color are hired, they often find themselves acquiring additional responsibilities, such as serving as diversity representatives, mentors to students of color, guest lecturers on race and ethnicity, and expectation to act as the “racial conscience” of their institutions. Higher education institutions often fail to reward or incentivize these additional responsibilities, which often leads to the quick departure of faculty of color from higher education.

Although research on this topic is limited, the authors suggest that learning communities, which have been proven to benefit students in terms of retention, persistence, and performance, can also help reduce barriers and improve the retention of faculty of color. Learning communities have the potential to promote collaboration among faculty of color while addressing issues like tokenism, isolation, marginalization, and lack of mentorship commonly experienced by faculty of color in academia. Inclusivity-focused institutions can use learning communities to simultaneously support racially underrepresented students and faculty. The authors use this article to explore different types of learning community models and provide recommendations regarding the most effective models in the context of academia. 

This study is co-authored by Dr. Judy A. Loveless Morris, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Tacoma Community College, and Dr. Latoya S. Reid,  Professor of Developmental Studies at Tacoma Community College. 

Methods and Findings


Drawing upon their own experience as FOC in English and Sociology, the authors expressed feelings of tokenism and isolation. The historical precedent – that FOC tend to be concentrated in departments with fewer resources and less prestige – further exacerbated this marginalization. The English faculty member, the only  person of color in her department, had to negotiate stereotypes while addressing racist issues in departmental meetings and curriculum, and the Sociology faculty member encountered the dismissive assumption that her “boutique, ethnic-focused” work lacked subject relevance. 

The authors outline three learning community methods that have positive effects on faculty of color in higher education: linked, paired, and clustered. Drawing upon Tinto’s (1998) evaluation of these methods in “College as communities: Taking the research on student persistence seriously,” the authors evaluate the models according to their experiences as faculty of color. Each model is designed to support classroom facilitation and curriculum design for faculty of color who may lack institutional support networks and teaching resources:  

  • Linked models, where a cohort of students takes two or more courses taught by different faculty members independently or collaboratively, with coordinated syllabi and assignments, can help students see the connections between different fields of study and promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 
  • Paired models focus on faculty co-teaching an integrated curriculum that combines knowledge from both faculty members. This approach uses instructional strategies where two teachers work together to plan, deliver, and assess lessons. Paired models aim to enhance the learning experience for students by leveraging the strengths and expertise of each teacher. 
  • Clustered models place cohorts of students in linked courses over multiple quarters to alleviate pressure on faculty of color who are held responsible for student learning. These models organize students in groups to foster a sense of community, encourage peer-to-peer learning, and promote collaborative problem-solving. 

In the study, the authors focus on the second and most effective model – paired courses.  


Teaching in paired learning communities helped the authors address common challenges faced by FOC, such as tokenism, isolation, mentorship, and marginalization. Paired learning offered FOC the opportunity to combat institutional tokenism by engaging with their racial identities on their own terms and as an integral part of their teaching.

The paired course model fostered a collaborative, contextualized learning experience, where faculty worked as equal partners. This approach created mutual support and affirmation between faculty members and allowed them to champion one another’s skills and talents, which can be particularly crucial for women of color during the tenure-track process. The learning community provided de facto peer-level mentoring and facilitated FOC integration into the campus by helping them connect with colleagues in their respective departments. The paired course model also offered participants the opportunity to expand their network of tenure-seeking FOC.

Additionally, learning communities supported FOC scholarship. These communities afforded researchers opportunities of scholastic collaboration, which resulted in co-authorship of articles and the development of multi-course learning communities to assist historically underserved students. Ultimately, the learning communities have the potential to improve the persistence, performance, and retention of FOC by increasing opportunities for collaboration that benefit both faculty and students.


Learning communities offer opportunities to support faculty of color in their retention and performance, particularly for those seeking tenure. These communities can also help normalize and standardize practices of inclusion and collaboration with FOC. To genuinely enhance the retention of faculty from underrepresented racial identities, colleges should create inclusive opportunities that do not require FOC to prove or fight for their belonging. While no single strategy can bring about meaningful and lasting improvements for FOC within higher education, learning communities offer a promising approach.


Thank you for visiting RRAPP

Please help us improve the site by answering three short questions.