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

To compete for prospective students, more and more institutions are providing luxury amenities within their residence halls, such as in-suite housekeeping and high-end pools and spas. As principled stewards of scarce institutional resources, many facilities leaders have wondered if luxury residence halls are the best investment.

However, two distinct market forces make these spaces a must-have. First, data consistently show that luxury residence halls boost enrollment. Second, institutions are increasingly competing with private developers building student housing units off-campus.

Yet luxury residence halls are not always the best setting for underclass students, who benefit from social immersion and connections with their peers. Community-centric residence halls, rather than luxury ones, are more likely to foster this type of immersion and social experience, which in turn promotes student retention. To address these dual needs, Bowling Green State University successfully built community-centric residence halls specifically for underclass students.

Bowling Green State University designs halls to encourage recruitment and retention

In their 2010 master plan, Bowling Green identified unique residence hall design features that would help increase underclass student retention. The university built new residence halls for underclass students that emphasize community spaces over personal spaces, with a focus on a few key features:

  • Relatively smaller personal rooms
  • Attractive lounges
  • Communal study spaces
  • Public kitchenettes

With the introduction of the new residence halls, Bowling Green saw a noteworthy increase in retention rates, from 69% in 2012 to 78% in 2015. While other changes also contributed to this rise in retention, campus leaders point to the new residence halls as a critical factor.

Community-centric residence halls graph

Other examples

Bowling Green State University is not the only institution pursuing community-centric residence halls. For example:

  • Elon University: The Global Neighborhood, housing 600 students (75% of whom are freshmen), is Elon's latest residential neighborhood comprised of multiple community-centric halls. To help encourage academic collaboration and student retention, Elon merged academic and residential life together by building classrooms and study spaces into the residence halls. Elon further developed individual social spaces (such as cafes) and house traditions to develop a distinct sense of community for each hall.

  • University of Utah: The University of Utah designed Lassonde Studios specifically for students interested in entrepreneurship. Each of the four 100-bed floors houses students from across years and majors around a specific design or business theme. The floors aim to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration and shared interests. Certain sections further encourage community building through maximized common space by incorporating bedroom essentials for a student into an efficient 7'x10' space.

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Luxury and Community-Centric Residence Halls

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