Spotlight on Living/Learning Communities

Student life is a large part of life at any institution of higher education, and creating a sense of community is often at the forefront of faculty, administrator, and staff planning. Living/learning communities are a new way to keep students engaged socially and academically, and grow a sense of community on campus. Paul Wuennenberg, principal at KWK Architects, and Jill Stratton, associate dean of Undergraduate Residential Learning at Washington University are at the forefront of these new campus communities and shared some of their insights with us.

Q. How can students benefit from these communities? 

Jill: Students don't compartmentalize learning—if you think about it, learning doesn't really have boundaries, so there are better outcomes when they walk away learning certain things, learning a lot where they live and when it is co-curricular. If students are happy and learning where they live, they learn more. A lot of colleges have invested in this intentionality of learning. [In cases where faculty and students live together] It humanizes the faculty to the students, making them more three-dimensional. Faculty already knew their brains but after living with them for four years, they know students' hearts and souls

Paul: These places are a great way to help build communities—grades and retention go up.

Q. What are some considerations an institution should take when planning a living/learning community?

Jill: You have to have the human resources and infrastructure that can support a living/learning community, Washington University’s started a program 20 years ago and have support from the academic side of the house, have to have commitment from the academic side and a senior level person supporting the job, someone who has the continuity and credibility and faculty to coordinate the efforts.

Paul: Non-revenue space is tricky to get a commitment from universities, residential colleges when they have apartments and interaction between students and faculty on a day to day basis, when you have a living/learning side, you need to plan for, multiple uses for spaces when dealing with a budget.

Q. What is on the horizon when it comes to living/learning spaces?

Jill: Really finding success goes back to community—students need to feel part of a community, at Washington University we double down on that investment because we have seen a benefit to students—they are better problem solvers, happy and healthy and thriving, people are seeing how critical these communities are in people's success.

Paul: As for future of education, in the next 50 years, everyone agreed that we don't see an end to bricks and mortar, we don't see universities going away, we see more institutions investing in on-campus housing and investing in the non-revenue spaces, on campus housing, we see universities moving more toward the infusion of  [community-based] learning, no matter how it manifests.