Fast read: When I received my freshman year room assignment in the Merner Hall dormitory on the campus of my small, undergraduate college, I thought I hit jackpot.
Today’s architects and campus project managers believe they too hit pay dirt with the construction of new residence halls complete with private apartments. It is backfiring: The first-year students feel isolated in their fancy housing. If that seems the young co-eds are grateful, they are not. A new study shows that there is a correlation between incompatible housing and poor grades during the first year in college. Worse, black students are especially vulnerable to poor academic performance in relation to their freshmen year housing. according to a , “The Hidden Structure: The Influence of Residence Hall Design on Academic Outcomes,” which was released in June 2019.
In the estimated $35 billion university construction and renovation industry, the new dorm digs are a far cry from my counterpart. In the mid-1970s when I arrived at suite 220 in Merner Hall, I recall my greatest amenity was the picturesque, tree-lined sidewalks’ view that led to and from the dorm https://webcpm.com/Home.aspx. When I received my room assignment, I believed that the suite was a double-bed room with a private bathroom and cozy chairs in a living room. Instead, it was a four-person suite with a half-bath and it had enough space for a large desk that we used to store our books and purses. It was a noisy first year of college for me with a constantly ringing, communal telephone just a few feet from our door. The shared bathroom and showers were down the hall.
There were several structural maladies maladies in the nearly 100-year-old dorm. It was also hard to study in the dorm so my group made frequent visits to the library. Our rooms were steam heated and therefore, we kept the fans running year-round.
Guess what? I loved every minute of it. I made lifelong friends beginning with those nights when some forgot their room keys or just wanted to talk. None of us were ever alone walking to and from the cafeteria, library and the central gathering spot where card games and good food were staples. I lived in Merner Hall through the end of my junior year.
It is perhaps a similar experience of shared living and common experiences that must be alluding today’s freshmen who arrive on campuses with impressive physical accommodations that largely please their parents. Increasingly, university administrators are now asking questions to find hopefully stem the tide of unhappy freshman
Ask the users how they wish to live
The study that was published in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, was based on a four-year case study of nearly 6,000 students attending a private, southern university. It found that grade point averages suffered when socialization was limited. Of the first-year students in the study, more than 14 percent were black students. For black students, the difference between the isolated apartment-like dwellings and traditional dorm living was 2.3 to 1.9 GPAs.
Other students about freshmen year housing experiences are turning up other uncomfortable findings. This year, highly regarded Williams College in Massachusetts, included input from the Black Student Union in its public queries and retooling of its housing for first year students. Now, the university is planning to retool existing residence hall space to “affinity” space that allows for more open areas for activities the students deem valuable and critical for their successful matriculations https://williamsrecord.com/2019/04/push-for-affinity-housing-builds/. The student newspaper published an editorial in favor of residence halls allowed for open spaces and conversations. The strategic plans for residential housing at Stanford University is proving favorable based on the responses from students and the student newspaper leadership after reading a 104-page ResX report. The findings call for building residence halls that are friendly to the freshmen students, especially those who seek arrangements in communities with friends https://www.stanforddaily.com/2019/04/29/editorial-board-31-pressing-questions-for-resx/.
Fancy amenities score better with juniors and seniors
All the news is not bad for university administrators building new facilities for the aged-out dormitories. In the “Residential Satisfaction among College Students: Examining High‐End Amenity Student Housing” study published in March 2019, customer service, fancy swimming pool and high speed Internet are the big winners among student soon to leave college life. But game rooms and coffee shops on the premises of new residence halls, are found to be unfavorable. The extensive study included satisfaction questionnaires and other observations in a case study of a housing leasing company with properties across the United States.
A sample of today’s campus living amenities include;
Snapshot of Properties and Amenities
|St. Louis, MO||2015||Pet friendly, resort‐style pool, fitness center, pool table, fire pit, walk to campus, ping pong, study room, tanning|
|Ann Arbor, MI||2015||Close to mass transit, retail centers and restaurants; rooftop terrace with stadium view; outdoor grill and fire pit; café’ study lounge with private study room; computer lab; free building Wi‐Fi; club room with foosball, arcade game, and billiards table; state‐of‐the‐art fitness facility; wellbeats fitness‐on‐request, free tanning; electronic key access to all amenity spaces; garage parking available; bike storage with keyed entry|
|Corvallis, OR||2015||Clubhouse, fitness center, greenspace, game room, pool area, computer lab, gold simulator, coffee bar, tanning, yoga studio, bike storage, pet friendly|
|Newark, DE||2014||Pool area, basketball court, greenspace, clubhouse, golf simulator, computer lounge, cardio space, strength center, tanning, outdoor grilling, pet friendly|
|Orlando, FL||2014||Pet friendly, clubhouse, large pool area, volleyball, basketball court, tennis, bocce ball, multipurpose fitness room, greenspace, sauna, golf simulator, computer lounge, tanning, pool hammocks|
|Tucson, AZ||2013||Pet friendly community, free shuttle service, expansive clubhouse, computer lab with study room, large multitiered pool w/tanning ledge, swim‐up movie, screen on pool deck, weight and cardio room with state‐of‐the‐art fitness equipment, free tanning featuring two stand‐up beds and one lay down bed, spa suite offering manicures, pedicures, massages, and other spa services, virtual golf simulator featuring PGA tour courses, water volleyball, outdoor grilling stations, community basketball hoop, bocce ball court|
|Tuscaloosa, AL||2009||Large pool, fitness center, basketball, tennis, putting green, greenspace, clubhouse, private shuttle, pet friendly|
|Knoxville, TN||2009||Pet friendly, luxury clubhouse with theater, state‐of‐the‐art 24‐h fitness center, study rooms, business center, resort style saltwater pool, sand volleyball, grilling area in‐unit laundry, walk‐in closets, high‐speed Internet included, tanning beds, green spaces and sidewalks, gated community|
|Athens, GA||2008||Furniture package available, hardwood‐style floors, in‐unit laundry, flat‐panel HDTV in living room, patios and balconies available, 24‐h fitness center, study spaces, business center, game/media room, resort‐style pool, grilling stations, 24‐h on‐site management, covered parking in attached garage, bicycle storage, pet friendly|
|Columbia, SC||2008||Clubhouse, fitness center, pool area, volleyball, movie theatre, computer lounge, basketball court, putting green, greenspace, tanning bed, pet friendly|
Source: Residential Satisfaction among College Students: Examining High‐End Amenity Student Housing,2019.
Accommodating international students
In other countries, the focus on student friendly housing is similar to the concerns in the United States dorms of isolation and avoidance of embarrassments in adapting to new cultures, according to the Student Wellbeing Matters. Exploring on and off campus student wellbeing in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Australia. Isolation and depression were the unintended consequences from apartment-type top concerns, according to the study’s sponsor, the Global Student Accommodation.
Brown, J. , Volk, F. & Spatto, E. (2019). The Hidden Structure: The Influence of Residence Hall Design on Academic Outcomes, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 56:3, 267-283, DOI: 10.1080/19496591.2019.1611590 .
Moore, H. P., Carswell, A. T., Worthy, S. and Nielsen, R. (2019), Residential Satisfaction among College Students: Examining High‐End Amenity Student Housing. Fam Consum Sci Res J, 47: 260-275. doi:10.1111/fcsr.12298.