Book cover for The Faculty Factor: Developing Faculty Engagement with Living Learning Communities

Forthcoming Fall 2022

Once a campus realizes that living on campus is central to learning on campus, it is easier to understand how the inclusion of both faculty and staff in this work is critical. An essential early step in making learning central to residential campus initiatives and defining an institutional vision is the intentional cultivation, on-boarding, and integration of faculty and staff. Keep in mind, though, that all campus constituents—including students, parents, administrators, trustees, and alumni—need help understanding how residential campus initiatives connect to larger campus efforts and goals. On many campuses, and certainly in Elon’s past, students’ living environments and residential experiences existed in a universe completely separate from the thinking or actions of most staff and faculty. The vision of the residential campus is not necessarily to make living on campus the only concern of students, faculty, and staff. Rather, the mindset shift involves integrating living on campus as a central opportunity for all faculty and staff to engage in delivering the mission of the university. All divisions of the university should be committed to the residential vision—from academic departments to Campus Recreation to Library Services to Core Curriculum to Civic Engagement. We knew that while student affairs staff remained central to this work, our larger institutional goals could not be met without the talent and expertise of both faculty and staff and without faculty and staff embracing their mutual dependence in achieving a broad-based vision (Schroeder, 1995). Before we could build collaborative faculty-staff partnerships, we needed to break down traditional silos and outdated understandings of who on campus owns or engages in residential campus work.

Often faculty and staff know only part of the history of residential programs. Some faculty at Elon knew firsthand from experience or remembered that the earliest colleges and universities in the United States were designed much like the systems of Oxford and Cambridge and were, therefore, faculty-centric (Delbanco, 2012). Staff members, who studied the evolution of higher education knew that residential colleges began under the purview of the faculty (Delbanco, 2012), were more accustomed to how all things housing, like most business and administrative aspects of university operations, quickly became the purview of professional staff, and in particular student or residence life staff. Others were more comfortable with how elite universities in the United States continued the Oxford and Cambridge models by embedding faculty both in residences and through other deep affiliations (Delbanco, 2012). In explaining the history of residential learning, Elon focused on the late 20th century, as student graduation rates and retention rates declined, and colleges and universities realized that advancing learning requires a shared responsibility across the institution that combines expertise, connects learning opportunities, includes awareness of how student learning is constructed socially, in community, and informally (American, 1998).

The history of faculty and staff involvement in residential learning was also instructive. A helpful example regarding the need for strategically considering the role of the residential experience in fostering the university’s mission can be seen in the 1960s planning to introduce the residential college at the University of Michigan (Bright & McClellan, 2015). Faculty members in the early 1950s lamented that the university was growing too large. As a result, relationships deteriorated, and the overriding sense of community that fostered student success was absent. Importantly, the majority of the faculty making this argument had themselves attended residential colleges at Columbia and Calvin College. When the concept of residential colleges was reintroduced in the late 1950s, University of Michigan faculty resisted. They expressed concern that financial investments for creating a resourced residential college would inherently siphon resources from their research and departmental funding. Deliberations took more than a decade, but in 1967, the residential college launched with a core curriculum and a bevy of assessments that would later be widely published (Newcomb, 2013). The University of Michigan’s effort in the 1960s to create a common and student-centered vision for investment in the residential experience is still unfolding across American higher education and illustrates the importance of strategically inviting faculty and staff and educating them on the history and benefits of the work.

Perhaps even more important than the history of residential programs is sharing—with students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents, and trustees—the decades of research that show students living on campus attain better grades, stronger support networks, increased retention and graduation rates, increased overall satisfaction, increased achievement of learning outcomes, and increased alumni affinity (Astin, 1993, 1996; Chickering & Reisser, 1969; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005; Schudde, 2011). With the growing number of strains on campus budgets, trustees and administrators will be more apt to fund residential campus initiatives once they more fully understand these powerful outcomes. Similarly, faculty who are focused on classroom instruction, may actually be surprised to find that the strongest influence on growth in first year students’ academic capability was credited to their sense of a supportive campus environment (Reason et al., 2006). Faculty and staff are often unaware that living on campus has been shown to increase persistence; retention and satisfaction overall, with faculty, and with campus experience (Astin, 1993).

On many campuses, faculty who understand engaged and experiential learning opportunities have either been involved in efforts to connect with students through living-learning communities (LLCs) or can easily understand the pedagogy, goals, and outcomes of LLCs. Faculty advisors to LLCs often find it easy to explain to their colleagues how students in LLCs say they have more interactions with peers, more engagement outside of the classroom, and also a greater sense of feeling supported on campus (Mayhew et al., 2018). LLC programs that provide a range of social and academic engagements and learning opportunities also lead to students experiencing increased developmental gains, academic success, satisfaction and belonging, appreciation of diversity, and overall persistence than students who were not involved (Inkelas et al., 2006; Mayhew et al., 2016; Tinto & Russo, 1994; Wawrzynsky et al., 2009; Zhao, & Kuh, 2004). The wide range of documented positive outcomes involved in learning communities has led to such residential programs being labeled as high impact practices (Kuh, 2008) and can be an important evidence-based introduction for faculty to the power of residential connections.

No matter the audience, clear, concise, and compelling data will be helpful in building support. While students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents, alumni, and trustees should all understand the positive impact of residential campus initiatives, each will have their own concerns and starting points. Crafting a shared understanding of the lengthy history and deeply researched benefits associated with residential campus programs will lead to greater support for this essential work to enhance how students develop socially, intellectually, and interpersonally.

Creating Residential Neighborhood Plans

Residential neighborhood or residential college plans should ask students, faculty, and staff to consider how to achieve the following primary goals and related learning outcomes:

  1. Deepen the intellectual culture of the neighborhood
    1. Students will interact with faculty outside of the classroom.
    2. Students will engage intellectually outside the classroom.
    3. Students will be able to describe basic issues related to world religion and conflict.
    4. Students will describe a desire to have a global experience while at Elon.
    5. Students will gain inter-cultural knowledge and literacy, including self-awareness.
    6. Students will be able to view an issue from multiple perspectives.
  2. Enhance students’ personal development
    1. Students will identify themselves as members of a group or cohort within the Global Neighborhood.
    2. Students will feel like they belong at Elon.
    3. Students will begin to establish independent living skills (time management, health/wellness, hygiene, exercise).
  3. Develop community understanding and skills
    1. Students will be accepting of others different from themselves in their community.
    2. Students will articulate their own sense of community.
    3. Students will understand how their actions affect others.

As campuses construct neighborhood plans with clear learning outcomes, time should be dedicated to working with institutional effectiveness staff to consider what existing and new assessment efforts and measures will be mapped to these learning goals.


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