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Dorm living and better grades appear linked

by Kendra Richards

Should I live on campus or off campus?

This is a question that comes up for probably all freshman when coming into college, and even many upperclassmen when they advance from year to year. Many consider convenience, where their friends are living, and price. However, choosing where to live should be considered on more serious grounds: research shows that students who live on campus are more successful in school.

Living on campus has its obvious benefits, especially for freshman. It allows new students to fully engulf themselves into the environment so they can make new connections and get used to this huge change in lifestyle.

“Students [that live on campus] easily connect to the university by living, eating, and studying on campus,�? said Jeni Eltink, First Year Experience program director. “They form relationships readily, and create friendships that last a lifetime.�?

UMD Sophomore Anessa Kemna lives has lived on campus both of her college years, and she agrees with this concept.

“If I didn't have the support of my friends and professors, there is no way I would be passing right now,�? said Kemna. “And it would have been harder to make those connections if I wasn't right with them on campus.�?

John Weiske, Director of Housing at UMD, also agrees.

“Research shows that within the first six weeks of college, it is important to make connections—be that within your living arrangement, organizations, or faculty. [Students] need to have that sense of belonging, and if this doesn't happen there is less tendency to stay in school.�?

Many people are aware of this, for the majority of freshman do live on campus their first year. Weiske said that about 87 percent of UMD Freshman live on campus each year.

Also, the majority of the total living on campus are freshman. Of all of the students that live on campus this year, 67 percent of those are freshman, said Weiske.

However, many students aren't staying on campus after their first year. According to Weiske, of that 87 percent of freshman who live on campus each year, only 40-45 percent of those students will live on campus the next year.

And, said Weiske, that just gets lower as students advance each year:

2007-2008 academic year
Beds available: over 3,000
Beds occupied by Freshman: 2175
Beds occupied by Sophomores: 560
Beds occupied by Juniors: 194
Beds occupied by Seniors: 130

Students seem to think that it is necessary to live on campus the first year so that connections can be made in this strange new world. This is true and important for a student's first year, but living on campus offers so much more than that to students, even in their upperclassmen years.

A random sample of 462 students living on and off campus, conducted by Richard Liu, campus director of the UMD Academic Administration, showed that where you live can affect the most important aspect of school: grades. According to Liu, the average GPA of UMD students living on campus is 2.93, and that's compared to 2.40 for those off campus.

Kemna said she thinks that convenience and close proximity are a big factor in helping boost grades.

“I have accidentally slept in until 10 minutes before class so many times,�? said Kemna. “I would have never made it if I lived off campus, and the more class you miss the harder it is to catch up and keep your grades up.�?

There is also a Higher Education study that shows living on campus has long been associated with persistence and student success—and it supports Kemna's theory of close proximity.

The report says that living on campus has the greatest total effect on learning outcomes of any institutional characteristic, and goes on to say that this may be caused by the fact that students who live on campus are surrounded by other academic figures.

“Students who live on campus generally interact more with faculty and peers and are more satisfied with their undergraduate experience,�? said the Higher Education report.

The report uses the term “propinquity principle�? to describe this, which says that students who live on campus are put in close physical proximity to others who have views and backgrounds different and similar their own, and cannot avoid being confronted with them on an almost daily basis.

These confrontations, as Kemna has attested to, can help nurture students' studies, and simply be an available outlet of supportive communication.

Eltink agreed with this as well, suggesting that these people and resources also serve as a simple reminder to stay focused.

“The educational environment expands beyond the classroom,�? said Eltink. “They live
where they study, and so there is a consistent educational reminder—whether it's the
resources available or class conversations in the lounges.�?

Sue Darge, campus director of UMD student affairs and participant in the Higher Education study, said that the College Learning classes required by UMD help a lot, too, for these reasons.

“Students who take these classes have significantly higher GPAs than those who do not,�? said Darge. “It is a class where students living in the same proximity can come together and discuss issues that they share.�?

Darge says that UMD uses these Higher Education reports to help improve student performance, and that is why they require these classes.

Darge said that the study also ties in graduation rates.

“The study shows that students who live on campus are proven to be more successful in school, and that they in turn have a better chance of graduating,�? said Darge.

Darge also suggested that students who live on campus can take more classes because they have more time—they don't need to fit in time for driving—and this can also cause them to graduate early, or simply prevent them from staying in school longer.

Sophomore Rachel Johnson lived on campus her freshman year, and decided to move 10 minutes off campus her second year. She has both sides, and tells us that the research has some truth to it.

“I moved off campus because I wanted to get away from the restrictions and rules of the university—I wanted to be able to have pets and parties without getting in trouble,�? said Johnson. “But, this year has been noticeably more difficult because of it.�?

Johnson said that she cannot take as many credits because she has to leave time for driving, and it is a lot harder to schedule appointments with professors and study meetings with friends.

“It's weird not having my friends randomly stop by to work on homework,�? said Johnson. “I find myself doing a lot more work on my own, and asking for help less because it would be too much work to drive all the way to campus.�?