Academic Performance in College Town

Article excerpt

Introduction

What impact does apartment housing adjacent to campus have on the academic performance of college students? With a few exceptions (Astin, 1977; Selby and Weston, 1978), research on the effects of residential life focus on differences between commuters and dormitory students and fail to consider apartment dwellers (Anderson, 1988; Chickering, 1974). Several studies comparing commuter and dormitory students suggest that living on campus fosters academic performance through expanded opportunities for integration into the academic (e.g., interaction with faculty) and social systems (e.g., frequency of peer conversations, informal social activities) of college (Chapman and Pascarella, 1983; Pascarella and Chapman, 1983; Tinto, 1975). Commuter colleges and those with few students living on campus are believed to lower students' integration by: 1) making it easier for students to become involved in competing social roles; 2) limiting access to faculty outside the classroom; and, 3) thus decreasing peer and faculty socialization to traditional academic norms and values.

The literature described above on the impact of commuting versus dormitory residence suggests that the proximity of apartment housing to campus will produce an environment similar to that of dormitories, but there are some important differences. First, dormitories tend to have more extensive staffing than do apartment units. Second, most dormitories offer opportunities for student participation in policy setting and activity programming in residence halls. Finally, security is likely to be more elaborate (e.g., security guard patrols and desk monitors in residence halls to control admission to buildings) in dormitories than in apartment complexes.

Apartment housing near college campuses continues to be increasingly popular among students. Some of the dwellings in these "college towns" are acquired by colleges from private owners and remodeled to meet the contemporary living-learning needs of students. Still others, including the apartment buildings in this study, remain privately owned and are located next to campus.

There is a need for further empirical research comparing the multitude of residential options available to college students. The issue addressed here concerns the impact of residing next to campus in a student community versus living in a dormitory or commuting. This study is designed to determine whether apartment, commuter, and residence hall students differ in their academic performance. Controls for relevant background characteristics are also considered.

Data and Methodology

Data were collected at a large state-supported university on the West Coast of the United States. In the Spring of 1985, students completed a questionnaire with items examining background characteristics and a variety of attitudes, behaviors, and college experiences. A shorter version of the 1985 questionnaire was administered in the Spring of 1986. Only those items that appeared on both surveys are analyzed in this study.

A random sample of 500 students was selected for each of the two years from the Student Directory. The selection process was scientifically constructed to ensure a random sampling of the student body. On both occasions, questionnaires were completed and returned anonymously. A total of 220 students responded to the 1985 survey, for a 44 percent response rate. In 1986, 251 students returned the questionnaire, yielding a response rate of 50 percent. The results from the 471 students were combined into a single file. A comparison of respondents' residence and grade-point average with non-respondents revealed no statistically significant sample biases. Furthermore, the sex composition, age, socioeconomic status, and race of the respondents did not differ significantly from the original pool of students. Table 1 summarizes the operational definitions and descriptive statistics for all the variables used in the analysis. …