Why there is value in on-campus living

By Beth McCuskey
Purdue University

Does living on campus support learning and student success?

As families consider the living options available to their college students and look at the costs of college education, what might not be as evident to them is how on-campus living can actually maximize their college investment.

The truth of the matter is that campus housing provides a great deal of return to the students who choose to live in the residence halls. This has been demonstrated through multiple studies over multiple years.

Evidence for living on campus

Most notable is the research conducted by Alexander Astin, founding director of Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Astin’s work with the CIRP Freshman Survey (a survey spanning five decades that has covered millions of college students before they start their college careers) shows that living in a residence hall has a positive impact on degree attainment.

Astin’s research highlights the importance of the peer group and involvement with campus experience. These findings help explain the ways in which on-campus living supports learning.

Research conducted by Ernest T Pascarella at University of Iowa and Patrick T Terenzini at Pennsylvania State University confirms these findings.

Their research (one conducted in 1991 and another in 2005) analyzed more than 5,000 studies, conducted between 1967 and 1999. It came up with similar conclusions – that on-campus students were more likely to stay in school and to graduate than their commuter counterparts.

A more recent analysis of results from the National Survey of Student Engagement also demonstrated that first-year students living on campus reported higher-quality interactions with other students when compared with off-campus students.

The same study concluded that seniors who live on campus were more engaged with advisors and faculty than their off-campus counterparts.

High-quality interactions between students and other students and between students and their faculty are linked with better learning engagement and ultimately academic success.

Models for enhancing learning

These improved results don’t just happen at random. Many colleges and universities recognize the educational impact of residential living and strive to build programs that further enhance the student experience in ways that go beyond just providing fancy amenities.

Colleges build learning communities to enhance learning. | Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography, CC BY

One example of how colleges and universities do this is through Living-Learning Communities (LLCs). A typical model of an LLC involves students taking several classes together while living together in the same physical community. LLC models have been found to support the transition to college and build deeper connections with both peers and faculty members.

Another learning model offered at many institutions is the residential honors college. This builds a residential community that blends classrooms and faculty offices within a residential environment. Campuses may build additional themes into their honors communities.

For example, Arizona State University’s honors community includes the Sustainability House, a facility engineered to save energy and to promote a sustainable lifestyle. Purdue University’s Honors College and Residences include both a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and an art lab.

Students have many opportunities to weave learning into their residential experiences. Many institutions are building such programs to support additional learning. For example, the University of Florida is opening Infinity Hall, touted as “the nation’s first entrepreneurial-based academic residential community.”

Meanwhile, Purdue University’s Executive in Residence program brings renowned industry leaders to campus to spend a week living in a residence hall and connecting with students.

These executives share lessons learned, help students build their networking skills, and provide a mechanism for students to frame their own college experiences into meaningful examples to share with future employers.

To get an advantage, be proactive

So, how can students make choices that maximize the return on their college investment?

The first step is to ask questions about the educational opportunities within the residential program on campus and then to consider participating in a learning or an honors community. Institutions frequently maintain data about the educational performance in their various facilities. So, students should ask for this information.

Once the student is living on campus, he or she should make the effort to participate in programs and activities in the residence hall community. Campuses may host well-known speakers or celebrated artists.

Students should also take the opportunity to connect with faculty members when they participate in residential programs. This may involve dining with faculty or attending an in-residence lecture or study session.

They can also form study groups with other residents taking the same classes. Studying subjects as a group can help everybody retain the material. It is also a great way to meet new friends.

Finally, students should take advantage of many of the resources available in the residence halls. One of the most valuable of these is the hall’s team of resident assistants. These student leaders are well-informed about many aspects of campus.

Whether it is for one year or more, by taking steps to integrate fully into the residential experience, students can maximize the beneficial impact of their higher education experience.


Beth McCuskey is Vice Provost for Student Life at Purdue University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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