Beyond the Lazy River: University Housing as Educational Partner

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Perspective
Roompact “Perspective” posts are opportunities for individual staff members to work out ideas and provide their individual thoughts and opinions on a given topic.

Student affairs professionals—and specifically, University housing and residence life professionals—face a mounting critique: Is it their role, alongside professors, to promote and facilitate learning? In a rapidly changing labor market, should student affairs professionals leave the teaching to others, and act primarily to bottom-line, economic pressures?

Colleges and universities in America are competing for students more than ever. Students have more choices on how (online, on-campus, hybrid) and when (full-time, part-time, at-your-own-speed) to pursue their higher education. Colleges and universities in America in particular are under increasing pressure to show their value.

“Money is not the coin of the realm” – John Sexton, President of New York University
Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education (p. 263)

Creating and retaining satisfied customers—often parents and students—requires marketing and personalized services. It also requires administrators making sound business decisions. However, to serve their mission and remain successful, institutions cannot rely on amenities and great branding alone. In an increasingly competitive market for college students, it is incumbent we have “all hands on deck” to meet the missions of our institutions.

University housing operations are complex and just like any other complex organization, in order for University housing organizations to be successful, staff must profitably “create and retain satisfied customers” (Leonard Sherman; If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth, p.74). For many campuses, creating and retaining satisfied students meant investing in facilities—the “amenities arms race” has been widely reported on.

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More than big business; however, University Housing is a integral partner in academic and student affairs. Admittedly not as flashy as a lazy river — student affairs administrators have at the same time made substantial investments in creating and measuring student learning in virtually all corners of campus-life.

“People now understand that learning happens everywhere, and universities have really taken that concept to heart,” says Jim Curtin, a principal in SCB’s Chicago office who specializes design for education. “We’re blurring the lines between a traditional classroom and traditional residence hall. Really, the two are merging together.”

Tim McKeough in “How Architects are Innovating the College Dorm”

While Student affairs educators continue to develop their models for student learning outside of the lecture hall, University housing administrators have for decades recognized that beyond big business, University housing allows educators to create living-learning opportunities. As Yanni writes in her new book, Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory, “Residence halls are not mute containers for the temporary storage of youthful bodies and emergent minds”; they reveal and “constitute historical evidence of the educational ideals of the people who built them.”

Developing knowledgeable and responsible citizens remains the mission of (public) colleges and universities in America, and the responsibility to provide this mission-centered work must be shared amongst educators across academic and student affairs. Today more than ever it is critical we have “all hands of deck” to create and retain satisfied customers.