Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Campus Does Matter: The Relationship of Student Retention and Degree Attainment to Campus Design

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Campus Does Matter: The Relationship of Student Retention and Degree Attainment to Campus Design

Article excerpt

Michael Haggans, a visiting professor in the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Institute of Technology and visiting scholar in the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota, recently interviewed Amir Hajrasouliha, one of the authors of this article. In the interview, available here (, Hajrasouliha, an assistant professor at the Department of City and Regional Planning, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, discusses the research that led to this article and his conclusions.


DESIGNERS AND PLANNERS BELIEVE that design matters and plans are helpful. That is why campus master plans, generally, recommend a set of design and planning actions intended to fulfill a university's goals and objectives as a higher education institution. A review of different campus master plans shows undeniable similarities among their recommendations. However, the validity of the proposed recommendations has not been tested. Most publications about campus planning/design are by practitioners (Chapman 2006; Coulson, Roberts, and Taylor 2010, 2014; Dober 1996; Kenney, Dumont, and Kenney 2005; Toor and Havlick 2004), and few academic studies verify the default assumptions of campus planning practice. As Dober (1996, p. 12) observed, "Lacking an organized body of research or theory, campus planning is likely to be continued on a pragmatic basis." Thus, among the many methods employed to foster learning, use of the physical environment is perhaps the most neglected. This research is an attempt to evaluate the role of the campus built environment in two major concerns of universities: student retention and graduation.

Student retention and graduation rates are currently among the most discussed topics in the field of higher education, and they are critical measures of the quality of higher education institutions. Retention and graduation rates are important for students, universities, and society as a whole. They can affect the self-esteem and future career of students, the economy and reputation of the institution, and, overall, the well-being of a generation. The statistics in the United States are not very promising. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2015), institutional retention of first-time degree-seeking undergraduates at degree-granting postsecondary institutions was around 71 percent from 2006 to 2012. The 2012 graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor's degree at a four-year degree-granting institution and completed the degree within six years was 59 percent.

The literature on student retention focuses on different contributing factors, such as student engagement and involvement (Kuh 2001; Kuh et al. 2008; Quaye and Harper 2014; Roberts and McNeese 2010), student socioeconomic status (Ethington and Smart 1986; Lei and Chuang 2010; Naretto 1995), student expectations (Bank, Biddle, and Slavings 1992; Braxton, Vesper, and Hossler 1995), and institutional characteristics (Braxton and McClendon 2001; Eckles 2010; Lau 2003; Seidman 2005). However, the focus of the research presented here is aligned with the concept of a "supportive learning environment" (1) proposed by Kenney, Dumont, and Kenney (2005). The supportive learning environment extends beyond the classroom to embrace the entire educational environment. While "supportive learning environment" is a broad construct, the scope of this research is limited to the physical environment outside the classroom that is conducive to meeting students' social and educational needs. This is understudied territory in the student retention literature and overlaps with the practice of campus planning and design.

Our research question is: Can the physical campus help universities achieve their retention and graduation objectives? There is no established theory in the field of higher education to answer this question, but there is a rich practical understanding among campus planners and designers about how to create a well-designed campus that can support a vital learning environment. …

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