Structures that promote caring, Part II: The Residential College

Residential Colleges

Since the earliest days of Universities, students have lived in a system that has become known as the Residential College. Starting in Cambridge and Oxford, many other universities adopted the Residential Colleges as they sprung up. In modern times, the residential college has become synonamous with places like YaleRice, and University of California at Santa Cruz.  Collegiate way lists another 28 colleges in the USA that offer students the opportunity to live and learn in a residential college. Some Universities, like Duke and Vanderbilt offer a freshman residential experience that would be on par.

The Residential College is not just a dormitory, but something much more important and integral to the learning experience:

In its most generic sense, the term may be used to refer to an institution that houses most of its students on-campus as opposed to an institution with a large commuter or off-campus population. Many small, independent, liberal arts colleges conform to this definition of residential college. In a more restricted sense, the term residential college may be used interchangeably with terms such as living-learning center, theme house, and residential learning community. This usage, however, may obscure important differences between the classical model of residential college, conventional residence halls, and other types of contemporary residence education programs.

And more:

A 1998 meta-analysis by Gregory Blimling of studies published from 1966 through June 1997 shows, however, that residential colleges, as compared to conventional halls, increase students’ academic performance and retention and enhance the social climate of the living unit. Blimling’s study does not distinguish clearly between classic residential colleges and living-learning centers.

According to studies conducted in 1991 by George D. Kuh and associates and in 1993 by Jerry A. Stark, faculty participating in residential colleges or living/learning centers report improvement in their teaching skills and enhanced relationships with faculty from other disciplines. Frances Arndt reported in 1993 that faculty also held positive attitudes about opportunities offered by residential colleges for teaching a variety of special and experimental courses.

Also well worth the reading an artcile for StateUniversity.Com And this: 

Previous literature has consistently demonstrated a positive influence of residential living on the success of a student’s university experience (Stevens, 1996; LaNasa, Olson & Alleman, 2007). The impact of residential living on the university experience is believed to be multidimensional (Zhao & Kuh, 2004), it may also depend on how satisfied the student is with their arrangement. The most successful residential colleges are those living-learning colleges prominent in USA (LaNasa et. al, 2007). These colleges facilitate not only heightened living conditions but the environment assists to recruit and support student success and learning. Therefore such findings emphasise the need for residential communities to not only be a place to live, but to also foster academics and student success. There has been shown that on-campus living has a positive, often indirect effect on student growth and social development, this is associated with the on-campus environment increasing student involvement through maximised opportunities for social, cultural and extracurricular involvement (LaNasa et al, 2007).

Other research shows that

Students in residential learning communities had significantly higher levels of involvement, interaction, integration, and gains in learning and intellectual development than did students in traditional residence halls. 

The Collegiate Way, a web sit dedicated to Residential College, provides four questions that you should ask when exploring how a college’s living situation works:

o   “How many faculty live on campus?” The number of faculty living on campus is a good sign of an institution’s commitment to creating a comprehensive educational environment. And the question is not how many staff members or “student life professionals” live on campus, but how many faculty: professors, lecturers, deans, and so on, who not only participate in residential life but who also teach biology, or philosophy, or mathematics, or art, or some other academic discipline. Are there faculty offices in the dormitories? If so, that is also a good sign.

o   “Does the university have ‘theme halls’?” Theme halls are dormitories or dormitory corridors that group together students who have a common interest or background. Although at first glance this might seem like a good idea, theme halls are really not in students’ best educational interest. If all the art students live together, or all the science students, or all the athletes, how will any of them be able to learn and grow intellectually from exposure to the full range of talents and interests that other students have? If the university you are visiting has theme halls you might ask instead, “Why does the university segregate students in this way instead of integrating them so they can benefit from living in a diverse environment?”

o   “How many juniors and seniors live on campus?” How many graduate students? Are they segregated from the other students, or is everyone mixed together? If the campus dormitories are populated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores, that is a bad sign. It means either that the conditions are so poor that older students don’t want to stay, or that the university is only concerned with rental occupancy and is not trying to create a rich and diverse educational environment.

o   “Do faculty eat in the campus dining halls?” If you visit a dining hall, look around and see if there are university faculty and staff eating there as well as students. Is the dining hall a noisy student ghetto with a widescreen television blaring away, or is it a relaxing, home-like place where people can talk and get to know each other?

o   “How are the dormitories used during the summer?” Many universities rent their dormitory space during the summer to make money, and in itself this is not objectionable. But who are the tenants? If the space is rented to academic societies, professional organizations, local charities, and the like, that is a good sign. If it is rented to summer sports camps, that may be a bad sign. Years of personal observation have taught me that summer sports camps are often badly supervised and commit extensive vandalism. Their presence may mean that campus buildings are so poorly maintained that more responsible groups don’t want to stay in them. Do you want your son or daughter’s campus home to be routinely vandalized over the summer?

Looking at the CollegiateWay’s listings, you can see that he makes a distinction between the Residential Colleges of Universities and the small liberal arts and science colleges that offer a very similar experience, albeit on a more intimate experience.

Each of these institutions—along with many others around the world—has established, is planning, or is expanding an internal system of residential colleges: permanent, cross-sectional, faculty-led societies that provide the advantages of a small college in the environment of a large university.

For what may be the most comprehensive listing of Residential Colleges in the world, visit Collegiate Way: