Are Apartment-Style Residences Really Better than Traditional Corridor Dorms?

Although a recent study suggests that traditional dorms with hall baths might be better than new apartment-style residence halls in promoting strong connections and higher GPAs, the study does not take into account the positive impact that living/learning programs provide in the newer residences.

The study, summarized in an Inside Higher Ed article, found that the first-semester, first-year GPAs of African American students at an anonymous liberal arts college in the South were higher (2.3 vs 1.9) for students in traditional dorms. The same was true for white students but the improvement was minor (2.9 vs 2.8). The four-year study involved 5,538 students, including 800 African American students.

Accepting the premise that more social interaction enhances a sense of belonging and that this leads to improved academic performance, the study seems to favor traditional dorms that guarantee a high degree of social contact. But the idea that students in apartment-style (or suite-style) residence halls live in relative isolation does not fully consider that in newer honors living/learning residence halls, most of which are suite-style, students not only associate with a ready-made cohort of similar residents but they have a full range of honors programming available to them.

These include honors social activities within the dorm; faculty and outside speakers for honors students; access to in-depth research and faculty support; honors study-abroad programs; and smaller classes in the first year.

Non-honors living/learning communities such as those, notably, at Michigan State University, provide subject-area or cultural themes that bring students together in their residence community.

It is also true that traditional residence halls can offer living/learning programs. A  better way to analyze the impact of traditional and suite-style dorms on student socialization and academic performance would be to compare GPAs between students in traditional living/learning dorms and students in suite-style dorms with living/learning programs.

A few honors colleges and programs have purposely built new residences that are traditional in design, based on the premise that they are more effective in promoting collegiality and a sense of belonging. For parents and prospective students, especially those looking at honors programs, it would be a good idea to consider the programming and the design and amenities of residence halls, in the order of importance to you.

The Inside Higher Ed article did not report on the types of programming in the residence halls involved in the study. The link to the actual study states that a $43 payment is required for access, so the full details are not reported here either

Best Honors Residence Halls 2014

Although some honors professionals believe that separate residence halls (or sometimes floors) for honors students create an atmosphere of elitism in their programs, we do rate residence halls, and favor those that have suite-style rooms, in-house or adjacent dining facilities, air-conditioning, and relatively centralized locations on campus.  We used campus maps to rate locations and spent a great deal of time researching the amenities of each residence hall.

With a maximum rating of 10.0, we assigned that highest rating to the residence halls of Arizona State’s Barrett Honors College.  We assigned 9.75 ratings to the residence halls of the University of South Carolina Honors College; Temple University Honors Program; Texas A&M Honors Program; and the University of Utah Honors College.

Other honors colleges and programs with residence hall ratings of 9.5 or higher are Clemson’s Calhoun Honors College; the Florida State Honors Program; the University of Iowa Honors Program; the University of Kentucky Honors Program; the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College; the Texas Tech Honors College; and the University of Vermont Honors College. The University of Tennessee Chancellor’s Honors Program also has an outstanding residence facility opening in Fall 2014.

The following excerpts are from the current edition of A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs:

ASU’s Barrett Honors College: “We are the only university in the nation with our own entire 9-acre, $140 million, 600,000 square feet honors campus at Tempe, complete with everything a private college campus would have, besides things like the university health service and the student recreation center.  On top of this, we have Barrett living communities on all four of ASU’s campuses in the Phoenix Valley, though the one described just above is at Tempe, the biggest campus of ASU.  Each of the other three Barrett communities–at the ASU West, ASU Downtown Phoenix, and ASU Polytechnic campuses –have honors headquarter space with classrooms, computer labs, advising offices, social lounges, conference rooms and faculty offices.”

South Carolina Honors College: “The two residence halls, one for both freshmen and upperclassmen and the other for upperclassmen only, are both coed, air-conditioned, and have on-site laundry.  They are conveniently located for access to many classroom buildings, and one, the 537-person Honors Residence Hall (freshmen and upperclassmen) has suite-style rooms and the Honeycomb Café on site.  The Horseshoe is on the main quad and oldest section of the university and includes five buildings for 237 honors upperclassmen.  The rooms there are apartment style—kitchen, living room, bathroom, and individual bedrooms.”

Temple University Honors Program: “The Honors Program Living-Learning Community is situated in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of the 1300 Residence Hall on Temple University’s Main Campus.  Located one block from the Honors Program advising office, the Honors LLC is a residential community of students in the program.  The support of Honors Program staff, Honors Peer Mentors, and the Honors Activities Board helps foster relationships among upper and lowerclassmen through tailored programming and learning opportunities.

“1300 features Honors advising offices and a dedicated Honors classroom on the 3rd floor, where many Honors courses, including first-year seminars, are offered during the academic year.  In addition, 1300 affords numerous recreation and dedicated study spaces.”

“The Honors spaces in 1300 are two-thirds suite-style and one-third apartment-style.  They are air-conditioned and house 450 students.  The Director tells us that 78% of Honors first-year students living on campus reside in 1300.  Honors floors are coed with one gender per suite.  The second and third floors are for first-year students, and the fourth floor is for upperclassmen.  All apartments on the fourth floor have kitchenettes.  Honors students may opt to live in the Honors LLC for all four years at Temple.”

Texas A&M Honors Program: The two freshmen honors residence halls are McFadden and Lechner, with a combined capacity of about 400 students.  Both are suite-style with connecting baths, air-conditioned (a necessity in Texas), with an interdisciplinary and critical-thinking living/learning themes.  Both residence halls have on-site laundry and convenient dining is available at Sbisa Dining Hall, one of the largest dining halls in the country.  Honors upperclassmen can choose to living in Clements Hall, which has amenities similar to those listed for the freshmen halls.”

“A freshman learning community seminar (LCS–1 hour, non-credit-bearing) has been developed to complement the Honors residential experience…

“One goal of the LCS is to help create smaller, academically supportive groups within the larger A&M community.  It is also the hope of the LCS that students will discover the value of seeking opportunities to advance their own knowledge and skills outside of the classroom so students will continue to engage in co-curricular activities beyond their first year.  The LCS is meant to push students to think and develop beyond their academic curriculum.”

University of Utah Honors College–When the name on the primary honors residence hall is ‘Marriott,’ the chances are excellent that the hall will be remarkable–and so it is.  The Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Community (MHRC) houses 309 honors students, 80% of them in suite-style rooms and the other 20% in traditional double rooms with hall baths.

“Freshmen and upperclassmen can choose from eight living/learning themes in the MHRC: First Year Experience; Outdoor Leadership and Education; Science and Engineering; Early Access and Leadership; Intellectual Traditions, Business; Engineering; or the Thesis Mentoring Community.  The MHRC is fully air conditioned with multiple lounges and on-site laundry.  Each apartment suite also has its own kitchen.  The nearest dining hall is at the Heritage Center, but the MHRC has its own convenience store and deli.  Other amenities include cable TV with HBO package, a ski wax room, indoor bicycle storage, an honors library, and high-speed internet.

“Twelve honors upperclassmen can live in the Honors Law House, a small living/learning community that is half suite-style and half traditional double rooms.  Another 12 students can live in the similarly configured Honors Social Justice House or the Thesis Mentoring Community.  Thirty freshmen are also housed in Sage Point Hall, featuring suite-style singles and doubles.  The nearest dining for all four of these is at Heritage Center.”