Building engagement in urban universities: A student perspective on residential learning communities

Thomas Edmund Ellett, Fordham University


Attending college can be one of the most exciting yet scary experiences faced by some 16.7 million freshmen each year. Once at college, students face challenges, including isolation, financial pressures, and the stress of academic and social life. These are particularly acute for students attending urban universities. Hardly unaware of pressures on students colleges have responded by experimenting with ways to connect students to one another. One recent method is the use of learning communities. Researchers have found positive influences from the learning community movement, including academic outcomes (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews, & Smith, 1990), increased interaction between faculty and students (Tinto & Love, 1995), and a greater sense of community (Romanoff, 2000). This study builds on earlier findings, but provides further inquiry into the aspect of students living together in themed and/or academic themed housing floors. The central question for this research is: to what degree does living in such an intentional learning community in an urban center increase retention, and make students feel more committed, involved, and satisfied with their critical freshman experience? Using an original survey, College Urban Residential Experience Survey (CURES), a sample of students from 3 treatment groups (themed and academic themed learning communities, and a sample of non-participants) were studied. Results indicated that participation affected their social support from fellow students and their Resident Assistants (RA), which in turn gave these students a sense of well-being and satisfaction. The findings of this study suggest that learning community participants are more likely to return to housing, have a higher level of utilization of peers and a stronger connection to others, be more involved in activities, and better utilize the city environment than non-participants. Surprisingly, there was no difference in academic outcomes or involvement with faculty members between the groups. The study also found the important role of peers to include RA, had on satisfaction with programs, intention to return to campus, and involvement in activities. The results provide valuable information for institutions in examining the role living in residence plays on the overall student experience at an urban institution.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Ellett, Thomas Edmund, "Building engagement in urban universities: A student perspective on residential learning communities" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3166566.