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College and University Residence Halls

Purpose of Residence Halls, Organization and Administration, Residence Hall Staffing, Residence Hall Student Government

When the English colonized North America, they brought with them the educational traditions and concepts of England. In 1636 the Congregationalists founded Harvard University, using Oxford and Cambridge Universities as their model. With the exception of the Philadelphia Academy and the College of William and Mary, the original nine colonial colleges were founded by graduates of either Oxford or Cambridge. Although the original purpose of residence halls was to help build character and intellect, they also served the practical function of providing basic housing for students, who were as young as thirteen and fourteen years old and frequently traveled great distances to attend college. Living and boarding at a college was a necessity for many students.

Residential facilities on college campuses expanded greatly following World War II with the enrollment of veterans, and in the mid-1960s when the baby boomers began arriving on campuses. Today, more than 60 percent of all traditional-age college students attending a four-year college or university live in a residence hall for at least their first year of college.

Dormitory, or dorm, is the popular term used by students to refer to a residence hall. The term comes from the word dormant, meaning to sleep. Because these are places where students live, study, learn, and sleep, most student-affairs educators use the more inclusive term residence hall.

Purpose of Residence Halls

Although the need to house students is an important function of residence halls, it is not the most important reason for investing institutional resources in these facilities. If the only purpose of residence halls was to house students, off-campus apartment owners could do it equally well and with less cost. Organizing the peer environment in residence halls as a means of facilitating various aspects of students' cognitive and psychosocial growth and development is the principal reason for investing institutional resources in college residence halls.

The residential learning environment is an important vehicle for student learning. It focuses the students' time and energy on college, increases informal interaction with other students, and offers multiple opportunities for students to explore values, lifestyles, and interests in a supportive environment under the administration of student affairs administrators trained in the experiential education of students. Research has clearly demonstrated that living in a college residence hall during the first year of college adds significantly to a student's likelihood of remaining in college and graduating. Compared with students who live at home, students who live in residence halls have more interaction with faculty, participate in more campus activities, have a higher aspiration for graduate education, are more satisfied with college, and generally move beyond their peers who have not lived in residence halls in a range of psychosocial development areas.

Organization and Administration

The administration of college residence halls is usually organized into three major units: residence life programs, housing operations, and room assignments. The purpose of residence life programs is to provide educational programming, nonclinical counseling, and support for student learning. Educators who work in this area are primarily focused on improving the quality of student life, increasing student learning, and building community among students in the residence hall. Professionals who work in housing operations are principally concerned with the daily management, maintenance, construction, and cleanliness of residence halls. This is a complex responsibility because of the number of residence halls, the varying ages of the facilities, and the demands placed on the facilities by college-age students. Professionals who work in the area of room assignments are responsible for assigning students to the rooms, matching roommates, making room changes, and monitoring the occupancy of various facilities. Normally these three functions–residence life, housing, and assignments–are managed by a director of housing and residence life, under the supervision of the division of student affairs.

Residence Hall Staffing

Students spend approximately 80 percent of their time outside the classroom, and much of this time is spent in their residence. A wide range of social and behavioral issues arise in residence halls that demand the attention of college and university administrators. To assist students, and to maintain an educationally rich environment that supports the educational mission of the university, residence halls are usually well staffed by people trained to assist students. On every floor, students are likely to find an undergraduate student who serves as a resident assistant or resident adviser (RA). Students who serve in this role are trained in basic helping skills, have a wide range of information about institutional resources, have responsibility for providing educational programs on their floor, and assist with the enforcement of institutional policies designed to maintain a positive living environment. The most usual organization is one RA per floor, which most often consists of between forty and fifty students.

Also usually living within a residence hall is a hall director or resident director. This person may be a student affairs professional holding a master's degree in college student affairs administration, counseling, or a closely related field; or this person could be a graduate student. Hall directors receive more advanced training and are responsible for the RAs in the building and for the residents of the building. Their responsibilities usually include staff development of their RAs, student counseling, educational programming, enforcement of institutional policies in the residence halls, and may also include other functions such as academic advising, intramural sports adviser, and facilities management. In large residence hall systems, hall directors often report to an area coordinator. This person is a student affairs professional who has several years of experience in residence life and housing and who has responsibility for several residence halls. Responsibilities of area coordinators vary, but usually include hall director and RA selection, staff training, educational programming, community building, enforcement of university policies, crisis intervention, and student counseling. Sometimes these positions also include supervision of maintenance and security personnel. Area coordinators generally report to the director of housing and residence life.

Student affairs professionals who work in residence halls have strong affiliations with a number of professional associations. The Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) represents housing and residence life professionals. There are both regional and state divisions of ACCHO-I. Professionals in this field also are involved in national associations that represent student affairs administrators, such as the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).

Residence Hall Student Government

Most colleges have organized a system of student representation within the residence hall system. Common names for these representational bodies include residence hall government, resident hall council, and campus resident/student associations. These student associations usually have student representatives from every floor in a residence hall, which forms the hall government for that particular building. Representatives from each residence hall on campus form a campus-wide student association of residence hall students. Functions for these student associations vary, but they commonly include some responsibility for educational programming and social events, student input on residence hall policies, and mediation of grievances by residence hall students. Student judicial functions, such as hearing allegations of minor residence hall violations such as noise violations, guest hour violations, or other minor social policies, might also be run by student associations. The national association of students in residence hall government is called the National Association of College and University Residence Halls (NACURH). State and regional groups affiliated with this national association are active in most parts of the United States.

Types of Residence Halls

Residence halls are organized by the sex of the residents living in the facility and by the programmatic function of the residence hall. The most common is a traditional residence hall, which houses under-graduate men separate from undergraduate women. Coeducational residence halls house both men and women. Usually, men live on some floors of the building and women live on other floors, but other arrangements, such as men and women living on the same floor in separate rooms are not uncommon.

Living and learning centers, residential colleges, and learning communities are common forms of special assignment programs in which students live in a residence hall and take one or more of their classes with the other students with whom they live. These programs often require some type of application and selection process and are considered to be a combined academic and residential program with increased faculty involvement and increased student/faculty contact.

Residence hall programs are sometimes organized around a particular academic theme, such as engineering or nursing. Other theme residence halls include freshmen residence halls, honors residence halls, substance-free residence halls, or special lifestyle units based on racial or cultural similarities such as international living units, African-American living units, or Native American living units. The homogeneous assignment of students with common interests or characteristics forms the basis for the programming in that area and for the support services offered to students in the building. The effect of these special lifestyle units is generally to draw a closer relationship between the students' living environment and their learning and studying in the classroom.

Roommate Assignments

The most common form of residence-hall assignment is two students to the same room. Because many college students today come from homes where they did not share a room, the residence hall may provide the first occasion where students are asked to have a roommate. Positive roommate relationships are important for both the emotional and intellectual well-being of students. A number of schemes have been organized to increase roommate compatibility. Among these are assigning rooms on the basis of similar personal habits, such as smoking, neatness, or sleep habits, and matching students on responses to specially designed tests of personal habits and room use activities. Other systems for roommate assignments have included using the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, matching by birth order, and matching by demographic similarities. These systems are based on the premise that the more homogeneous the roommates, the greater the likelihood they will be compatible. Generally the research shows that the most successful form of roommate matching is self-selection where students have identified the person with whom they wish to live. Other forms, such as assignment by similar behavioral traits or by the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator have also been shown to have some success in increasing roommate compatibility.


The architectural design of a college residence hall has an influence on the students' patterns of interaction, on student satisfaction, and on the sense of community in a building. Research in this area shows that student satisfaction and similar outcome measures are inversely related to the size of a residence hall. Students who live in buildings with more students are generally less satisfied than students who live in buildings with a fewer number of students, and students who live in low-rise residence halls (five floors or less) are generally more satisfied than students who live in high-rise residence halls. This same relationship is true for students who live in residence halls with long uninterrupted corridors compared to students who live in residence halls with shorter corridors, suite-style living arrangements, or other architectural designs that break the living unit up into smaller, more manageable, functional areas. Large high-rise buildings are frequently credited with increasing feelings of alienation, hostility, and rootlessness in students, and they tend to inhibit students from establishing a sense of community. Architectural designs that organize students into smaller living units minimize these alienating factors and increase the likelihood that students will develop a greater sense of control over their living environment.


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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia: Classroom Management - Creating a Learning Environment to Association for Science Education (ASE)