US lecturers move into student dorms to aid retention

Faculty-in-residence keen to offer advice and a listening ear

October 17, 2013

Source: American Library Association

Open door and a listening ear: Kay Wall has no regrets about moving into hall

Charles Dukes lives what he does and lives where he works. The associate professor of education at Florida Atlantic University has recently moved into a residence hall on the university’s Boca Raton campus, joining 614 first-year students, as a pioneer in a new faculty-in-residence programme that is one of many starting up at US universities.

The staff taking part are similar to the housemasters who have long lived among students on the elite university campuses of the nation. But this new generation of faculty-in-residence are on the front line of efforts to improve retention and graduation rates, something that is increasingly being considered when funds are being allocated to publicly funded universities such as Florida Atlantic.

“They’re returning to this because the focus is so much on college completion, and research shows persistence is increased when students are more engaged with the community,” said Stephanie Gordon, director of educational programmes for the national student services organisation NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

“Universities see faculty-in-residence as a way to create community,” Ms Gordon said. “They find that students are more engaged if faculty are living with them.”

Academics say they get a lot out of the arrangement, too.

Kay Wall, dean of libraries at Clemson University, a public institution in South Carolina, moved with her husband into a small two-bedroom apartment among a cluster of fraternities and sororities when Clemson began a faculty-in-residence programme, and after their children grew up and moved away.

“Our house [near the campus] was already a revolving door,” Ms Wall said. “We had students who would stay with us because they were friends with our children. We were thinking we were going to miss that.”

Now, she said, she cooks dinners for her student neighbours, cheers them on at soccer matches and lets them play with her dog, Jocassee.

No judgements

“We’re not their teachers. We don’t grade them,” Ms Wall said. “So that element is taken out of the equation. We can offer some academic approaches to things they haven’t thought about, or they can bounce an issue off us, or just talk about school. I think they appreciate it because we are adults in their lives who are not parents, and there’s a newfound appreciation that, while we are older than they are, we’re not trying to tell them what to do.”

Faculty-in-residence also keep an eye out for signs of homesickness or other problems that can lead to students dropping out.

“We can be alert and gently direct them to the place they need to go,” Ms Wall said.

Besides Florida Atlantic and Clemson, universities that already have or have recently added faculty-in-residence programmes include the University of California’s Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, and Baylor, Boise State, Boston, Cornell, Duke, George Washington, New York and Oklahoma universities.

Younger, single faculty members are often drawn to the programmes, although some of those living in residence halls bring partners, children and pets.

When students have problems at Florida Atlantic, Professor Dukes said: “I hope that I can pick up on that and can say the right word at the right time or provide a connection that they need – ‘Hey, I know you’re dealing with X problem. I know someone you can talk to.’ ”

He added: “I hope there’s a good balance between the kind of mentorship and expertise that you can get from a faculty member – for example, what would be a good combination of courses – and, while I don’t want to call myself a father figure or a parent because that would be presumptuous, some honest conversations that a student might seek out.

“I think it’s the case for many faculty members that you get to a point where you would really like to make a difference.”

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