Living and Learning Center Residence Halls
Organization and Administration, Research Findings in Living and Learning Centers
American higher education can mark the beginning of living and learning centers (LLCs) with the founding of the Harvard house program in 1926, made possible by a gift from William Harkin. The intent of this gift was for Harvard to develop a residential experience similar to those at Oxford and Cambridge universities. Yale University established a similar housing program in 1933, and a few years later Princeton University established what is commonly referred to as the quadrangle plan. All these plans focused on joining the classroom experience with the out-of-class experiences in the residence halls. The goal was to bring faculty and students into closer contact and to promote an environment that allowed students increased opportunities to discuss classroom subjects and other academic topics with peers in their residence halls.
Based on the English residential college model, the LLC environment is designed to foster a closer relationship between students' classroom experiences and their experiences outside the classroom. LLCs offer one of the best environments for partnerships between faculty and student affairs professionals to advance student learning.
Students usually gain residence in an LLC following an application and selection process. Academic courses for credit and enriched educational and cultural programs for student residents are part of the LLC experience. LLCs are usually compared with conventional residence halls, which commonly offer educational programs, organize recreational activities, and have some form of hall counsel or student government organization. The primary differences between conventional residence halls and LLCs are the programs and class experiences that are offered and the selection and application process used. Students who live in LLCs usually take one or more of their courses in the residence hall and/or take one or more courses with the other residents of their living unit. In addition, the administrative organization of LLCs differs from conventional residence halls in that faculty members have some administrative responsibilities in the LLC and some faculty often live in the LLC. Faculty normally do not have administrative responsibilities or live in conventional residence halls.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, hundreds of universities have some version of the living and learning center. Some are based around a particular academic college such as the college of engineering, but most are interdisciplinary.
Organization and Administration
There are many versions of LLCs. They vary with regard to their history, academic programs, and degree of involvement with the faculty. The most successful of these programs place the students' living environment in the closest proximity to the location of faculty offices. Residence halls specifically designed as LLCs usually have classrooms, faculty offices, and one or more faculty apartments built into the residence hall. LLCs are most often organized to house both male and female students in the same building.
LLCs bring together the expertise of faculty and student affairs professionals to build a residence hall community focused on fostering students' personal and intellectual growth. Management of the LLC facilities, room assignments, crisis intervention, hall government, and the enforcement of institutional policies are usually responsibilities of the student affairs professionals. Classroom instruction, selection of LLC participants, and criteria for common courses or similar academic experiences are usually the responsibility of the LLC faculty. Educational programming, the selection of resident assistants, and issues concerning individual students or groups of students commonly are shared responsibilities.
Because of the way residence halls are built and funded, LLCs are usually the financial responsibility of the director of housing and residence life and the vice president for student affairs. Staffing in LLCs is similar to a conventional residence hall with undergraduate resident assistants (RAs) living on each floor and a student affairs professional living in the building. The faculty head of the residence hall might be called something like head of house, headmaster, or director. The closer the integration between the student affairs professional and the faculty of the LLC, the more likely the program will be successful.
Research Findings in Living and Learning Centers
Educational advantages supported by the LLC environment are derived through a combination of factors. Among these are increased opportunities for informal interaction with faculty, an enriched academic experience with a greater intellectual atmosphere, a greater sense of community among students, and support for a wider range of creative endeavors. The benefits of LLCs have been recognized by the National Institutes of Education, the Wingspread Group on Higher Education, and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. Reports by these institutions cite the LLC as a model that details how to integrate the academic experience of the classroom with student life outside the classroom. Research on colleges that have been successful in broadening the undergraduate experience point to the benefits of LLCs, giving as examples programs that integrate and involve students in the campus community.
Research on residence halls shows that students living in conventional residence halls have an advantage over students who are living at home with parents, at least in their first year of college. These advantages include greater psychosocial development, higher retention and graduation rates, greater satisfaction, greater educational aspiration, and similar positive outcomes associated with student learning. The question addressed by most of the research on LLCs concerns the extent to which living in an LLC may further enhance the college experience.
On most educational criteria, research shows that living in an LLC is more beneficial to students than living in a conventional residence hall. Students in LLCs, when controlling for past academic performance, perform better academically, perceive the intellectual atmosphere of their living environment to be more academic, have more faculty interaction, and report a better social climate. Some studies have also shown that students living in LLCs have lower attrition rates and higher graduation rates.
Problems Associated with Creating and Sustaining Living and Learning Centers
Despite the benefits of LLCs, most attempts at creating and sustaining them fail. LLCs require a faculty commitment to spend more out-of-class time with students and to focus an increased amount of their creative energy on designing programs and activities with students. Unfortunately, the reward system for faculty, including tenure and promotion, does not always recognize the value of these contributions. Unless the academic department and the LLC are closely joined, faculty can be drawn between the departmental culture of scholarship and the LLC culture of student engagement. The most successful LLC programs are tied closely with an interdisciplinary department. This relationship allows for a wider range of faculty expertise and for the faculty reward system to more generously recognize the value of out-of-class commitments to student learning.
LLCs usually demand a greater financial commitment for educational programming and complicate the campus room assignments procedures because of the selection process used to admit LLC students. Both factors can be sources of concern for housing and residence-life professionals who must consider every student living in residence halls when allocating resources and meeting the demand for on-campus student housing. Even with these concerns, institutions that have invested in LLC residence halls find that the benefits to student learning, graduation, retention, and the value of an engaged and committed student body, outweigh the difficulties that must be overcome.
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GREGORY S. BLIMLING
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