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Paid to Live on Campus

October 2, 2012

Ohio State University is phasing in a plan to house all second-year students in the on-campus residence halls – and they’ll get a $2,000 stipend as part of the deal.

It’s part of an ambitious program designed to increase student retention and development by keeping sophomores on campus, engaged with faculty and involved in co-curricular activities like internships, service learning and research.

The stipend (or “fellowship,” as Ohio State is calling it) will go to fund those activities, for which students will work with a faculty mentor. The faculty members who participate – an estimated 50 in total, for 1,000 students – will receive an (approximately) $2,000 grant for this new responsibility, too, which will also entail spending time in residence halls and other public campus areas where they can be more accessible to students.

“We really don’t contextualize this in terms of paying students – what we think this does is provide the financial support that allows the students to engage in the experiences that we think are critical to their success,” said Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ohio State’s vice president for student life. For instance, for students who would otherwise be unable to accept an unpaid internship, this stipend could help them bridge that financial gap. “Really what we’re doing is we’re helping students move from the first year, where they’re really learning about their environment, to the second year, when they’re really focusing on the self, their self-development.”

Phase one begins in the 2013-14 academic year, with the 1,000 students who volunteer composing the pilot group, while Ohio State continues adding a total of 3,200 beds to the dorms until they can house 14,000 residents in all. Beginning in 2016, all second-year students will live on campus. (As of now, about 35 percent of freshmen opt to live on campus a second year.)

Many institutions require sophomores to live on campus, or facilitate faculty engagement, or encourage internships and other activities, as a means of keeping students enrolled, said Andrew Koch, executive vice president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. But Ohio State’s more comprehensive approach is “innovative” and “intriguing,” Koch said.

“This sounds good – they’re tying together a number of pieces that are well-supported in student success research and, in other instances, where the support is growing,” Koch said. While research tying retention and academic success to on-campus living, faculty interaction and student engagement is rife, Koch said, other studies linking grants and other financial incentive to desired student outcomes are also emerging. “This kind of takes that notion of financial incentive and links it with these promising and high-impact practices in a very interesting way.”

Having faculty in the residence halls and interacting with students in other non-academic spaces – “doing things as intimate as breaking bread, sharing meals” – breaks down barriers between them, Koch said. Humanizing the learning experience in that way (Koch recalled one animal science 101 professor at Purdue University, where he used to work, bringing dogs to visit with students at the residence halls) makes students more likely to ask questions and seek help not just with course work, but with other life issues and opportunities as well.

But the potential academic benefits are of course a primary goal. In another instance at Purdue, a biology instructor found out students weren’t grasping the concepts so he started holding impromptu study sessions at the residence halls. In that tighter-knit, more familiar environment, Koch said, students felt at ease discussing topics they were afraid to speak about in class.

“I find it ironic that institutions that house their students at the level at which many institutions do haven’t fully utilized the residence hall environment as a learning environment. The emphasis on housing needs to be de-emphasized; if all you’re doing is housing, then why are you doing it?” Koch said. “This is about converting the residence environment into a potential learning environment. Who better to do that than your faculty?”

However, some students appear to take issue with their professors crossing into their personal space. “Me and my friends might say or do things they [faculty] wouldn’t want to see or hear,” one freshman told the student newspaper, The Lantern.

To alleviate student concerns, a faculty committee that’s still figuring out the details and parameters of the plan will create “some standards” for interaction, Adams-Gaston said – but students shouldn’t worry about professors busting into their dorm rooms. “We’re not talking about faculty on the residence hall floors, we’re talking about faculty in large programming spaces,” she said, “or even smaller spaces that are available as public spaces.”

But apparently not all faculty members are on board with the idea, either; one commenter on the Lantern article who identified as a faculty member criticized the administration as being “disconnected” from the university and trying to turn it into a “giant liberal arts college.”

“If I want to be promoted, or to create a national reputation for myself and my department, I can’t think of a worse use of my time than to babysit undergraduates in this fashion (most of whom wouldn’t welcome it in the first place),” the commenter wrote. “What an unbelievably stupid idea. The only faculty who will say yes to this are those who are not active scholars (i.e., people who shouldn’t be on the faculty in the first place).”

Emily Glenn, a corporate librarian at the Association of College and University Housing Officers - International, said more of her organization’s members are expressing interest in faculty programs in residence halls or even faculty members living in the dorms. In a recent ACUHO-I survey, about 74 percent of colleges said they host programs or events where students can meet faculty in the residence halls.

“I do think a lot of institutions seem to be trying to create this kind of traditional atmosphere in their residence halls,” Glenn said. Of the Ohio State initiative, she said, “It seems like if you want to encourage campus involvement, that seems like a great idea – not only having people live there, but also getting them to interact with faculty.”

The key for Ohio State will be the follow-up, Koch said; if administrators don’t see the gains they want in retention or engagement, the stipend might not be the most productive use of funds.

“I think it offers a wonderful opportunity to see not just how this could work at Ohio State, but maybe how it could be emulated elsewhere,” Koch said. “If it has promising results, they could definitely have implications for other institutions.”
 

 

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