What your incoming students want from their housing

First year students want to make friends, so these colleges are redesigning residence halls to help them.

Traditionally, freshmen were assigned to whatever buildings could hold them, writes Lawrence Biemiller for the Chronicle of Higher Education. But as contemporary freshman arrive on campus with high school friends in their back pocket, colleges are recognizing that this cohort presents different retention challenges, notes Biemiller.

Now, leaders are redesigning residence halls to nudge freshmen to develop new relationships and avoid the feelings of loneliness that can lead them to leave college, says José Antonio Bowen, president of Goucher College.

After speaking with two universities rebuilding campus with first-year community in mind, Biemiller identifies four things new students want from their residence halls.

1: Communal experience

While students may say they prefer suites and a private bathroom, the University of Delaware's (UD) student survey results reveal it's the communal spaces, like bathrooms and lounges, that help first year students make friends and build a sense of community.

How one university promoted student retention with community-centric residence halls

2: Central location

Rather than place housing far away from campus commotion, colleges should "put students in the middle of it," says Peter Krawchyk, vice president of facilities at UD. Letting "students become the center of campus," fosters a stronger tie to the institution, says Krawchyk.

3: Connection to campus history

Student experience surveys reveal that older buildings outperform newer ones, says Jim Tweedy, UD's director of residence life and housing. For the college's newest housing endeavor, the architects went to great lengths to disguise the building's size and newness by echoing the form of older buildings on campus, writes Biemiller.

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4: Reasons to leave their room

To push first-year students to make meaningful connections, only leave them enough room space to "sleep and study," says Dennis Lynch, principal at Ayers Saint Gross. Tasks that may feel mundane to us, like laundry or cooking, become opportunities for "students to connect with peers," says Lynch.

Bowen offers another surefire way to lure students out of their rooms: make the "internet faster in the lounges" (Biemiller, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/9).

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