Living learning communities foster successful freshmen
by Paige Buffington
Research has shown that first-time, full-time freshmen who live on campus have a better chance of graduating than their peers who live off-campus. UALR retains these academic achievers by combining the efforts of recruitment, housing, and faculty into a “Living/Learning Community.”
The goal of a living/learning community is to place students with similar interests on the same floor of a residence hall or designating an entire dorm to the group.
A high school senior with an interest in UALR is asked to check a box indicating his or her preference for an area of study. This year, the most popular choices are Exploring Arts and Culture, Future Business Innovators, Exploring Majors and Careers, Nursing as a Career, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In their first year, living-learning communities have been so successful that another program, Criminal Justice, will be added for fall 2014 for incoming freshmen.
“Student success is our top priority,” said Debbie Gentry, Associate Dean of Students and Executive Director of Housing.
After disclosing his or her area of interest, the potential student receives an innovatively designed postcard inviting him or her to submit an application for admission, and to log onto BOSS to fill out the housing application for the specific community of interest. The “Apply to a Community” page on the UALR website explains each living/learning environment, describes the extra-curricular activities overseen by faculty, and the (few) required hours of specialized focus in the discipline of interest.
If a student is undecided about an academic focus, then he or she receives a card depicting the “Exploring Majors and Careers Community.” This focus gives the student an opportunity to take a Personal Awareness course (PEAW) in order to develop a broad overview of various career options. This is a highly focused course that keeps them on track for a four-year plan to graduation.
If parents are concerned that students will run wild, careening off course and turn the dorm into “Animal House,” they can be rest assured. The Resident Assistants are extremely involved in providing another layer of accountability to the success model. There is a Resident Curriculum mapping out dorm activities that originates from the Housing Office. Events are specialized to the related communities. A consistent item on the agenda is a monthly topic centered on the community’s interest. These events can be as formal as entertaining a guest speaker or a seemingly impromptu get-together.
The word “community” doesn’t just apply to the microcosmic world of the college campus. The living/learning courses and faculty mentorship are designed to link to and network with the community at large. It’s this type of activity that generates future scholarship money and future employment—post graduation. After all, academic success isn’t limited to grades—leadership and community involvement are standard requirements if one is to succeed in the job market now and in the years to come. The goals are clear–all one has to do it move in.