Is It Best to Live On Campus? Living Environments and Student Engagement: Research Findings & Implications

Living Environments and Student Engagement: Research Findings and Implications
ACPA Commission for Housing and Residence Life Sponsored Program
Tuesday, March 28| 4:45-5:45p | Convention Center A124
Presenters: Polly Graham, Sarah Hurtado, Bob Gonyea

Within the higher education community, there is a tacit belief that living on campus is more beneficial to students than living off campus. Residence life professionals in particular have experiential knowledge that supports this assumption. Most residential programs offer targeted programming, professional staffing, and increased access to a wide variety of resources, among other amenities. With increased access to these resources, it is commonsensical to assume that living on-campus offers more to students than other housing options. Additionally, there is scholarship that affirms the advantages of on-campus living, probably most well-known being Pascarella and Terenzini’s How College Affects Students.

In the 1991 edition, they assert the significance of residence life, concluding living on campus was “the single most consistent within-college determinant of the impact of college” (p. 611).

Yet, we know the landscape of college housing has changed significantly in recent years as has the demography of college students. For example, many institutions have moved away from the traditional residence hall with double-loaded corridors and community restrooms. Evolving technology has changed the way students interact with each other and the world around them. Further, more recent research such as Mayhew et al.’s 2016 edition of How College Affects Students, along with scholars such as Shaun Harper and Terrell Strayhorn have pointed to the uneven benefits of living on campus, especially when taking into account minoritized identities. There are also increasing available and accommodating non-university housing options, which offer many of the amenities available in traditional residence halls. It is with these considerations in mind that we pursued our study to better understand the impact of differing living environments on college student engagement.

Since each of us is affiliated with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in some capacity, engagement was of especial interest to us. With the support of NSSE and in collaboration with ACUHO-I, we drafted experimental survey questions. Data were provided by first-year and senior students attending 36 bachelor’s degree-granting institutions. The study investigates the characteristics of on- and off-campus living environments (facilities, programs, access to staff, safety, community issues, etc.) and their relationship with engagement and perceived gains in learning and development. In this particular session we will focus on first-year students, but will highlight findings disaggregated by various student characteristics. We look forward to sharing more about our rationale and development of the experimental questions, research methods, findings, and implications with you in our presentation, Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at #ACPA17 in Columbus, OH.

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Polly Graham is a doctoral candidate in Higher Education at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) where she has worked as a Project Associate for the IUB Center for Postsecondary Research. Her research has investigated the efficacy of learning communities as well as the influence of residence life on student engagement. She also has professional experience in residence life and higher education administration.



Sarah Hurtado is a doctoral candidate in Higher Education at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB) and serves as a Project Associate for the IUB Center for Postsecondary Research. Additionally, she has served as the Assessment Consultant in the IUB Division of Student Affairs, and has multiple years of experience working as a professional in residence life.





Bob Gonyea is associate director of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, where he coordinates research and reporting for the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and associated projects. Bob spent the early part of his career in student affairs administration where he gained insights about positive student development and effective campus  environments.



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