Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Hall Sweet Home

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Hall Sweet Home

Article excerpt

In efforts to improve retention rates, commuter colleges are looking to an unusual suspect: residence halls.

Rutgers University freshman Steven Johnson grew up only a few minutes from the Newark, N.J., campus where he now studies and lives. But for him, his old neighborhood and the campus are worlds apart. Drug dealers monopolized the street corners in his neighborhood, he says. Gunfire was normal; homicides not unheard of.

Johnson lives in a university residence hall courtesy of a university scholarship valued at nearly $11,000. He finds time to balance his studies while participating in school activities and expects to earn a B average in his first semester. If it wasn't for the opportunity to live on campus, he says, college would be a bust.

"When I was going into college 1 didn't get a penny from my parents. But living on campus was what I wanted to do," says Johnson, 18. "Living here on campus has been one of my best experiences ever. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have happened if I lived at home. I don't believe it would have worked out."

Many urban and commuter universities have their sights set on students like Johnson - young, vulnerable firstgeneration students unlikely to connect with the college and likely to fail unless the right strategies are put in place to help them graduate. These schools are using residence halls as a means of retaining students who may be underprepared and overwhelmed by college, getting them more engaged with the university and boosting academic performance.

For much of the past 10 or 15 years, many universities have jumped into the residence hall business or expanded their residential offerings. Queens College in Queens, New York, opened its first residence hall in the fall of 2009. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has been steadily expanding its residential offerings and hopes to double the number of on-campus students over the next several years. Youngstown State University, another historically commuter campus about 40 minutes from Cleveland, is following the same track. Portland State University, in Oregon, currently has about 2,000 students living on campus and plans to add another 1,000 beds by 2012. Arizona State University recently added 1,800 beds to its downtown Phoenix campus. And the University of Missouri-Kansas City has added 1,350 beds since the fall of 2003, according to the Journal of College and University Housing.

"As part of Queens College's master plan, we felt it would be important to offer an on-campus living option for our students," says Dr. Adam L. Rockman, the acting vice president of student affairs at the institution, which serves 20,000 commuter students and 500 on-campus students. "Research has shown that students who live on campus tend to have higher grade point averages and graduate sooner than those who do not live on campus. Furthermore, students who live on campus report that they have a better overall college experience."

Eliminating Distractions

It may be too early to suggest there is a building boom underway, but industry experts say there is clearly an uptick in the construction of residence halls at universities around the country, particular among the urban and commuter schools.

"We have seen more [request for proposals] for residence halls in the last 12 months than we have seen in a long time," says Alton Irwin, executive vice president of Capstone Development, a Birmingham, Ala., firm that focuses on the development, management and construction of student housing. "We are seeing more and more universities signing on to the fact that housing is a critical part of enrollment management. More universities are seeing that student housing can not only be a recruitment tool but retention tool."

Universities are padding these residence halls with a wide variety of social and academic programs designed to engage students and help facilitate their transition into college life. …

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