A vision for residence halls of the future (Part 2)

May 3, 2017 Sean Studzinski

Teaching and learning are changing. Here are four more trends shaping the future campus. 


By Sean J. Studzinski, AIA (Plano, Texas) with William J. Zeller, Ph.D., of Scion Group

In Part One of this series, we discussed three trends that are influencing the residence hall of the future: technological pressures, economic pressures, and new funding models for spaces. Here are four additional trends that will help us look at the college/university experience more holistically.


1.   Prioritizing interpersonal skill development

There’s another dimension to preparing students to work in the real world: the human dimension. Employers report that only 30 percent of graduates have the teamwork skills they require upon graduation, while 64 percent of graduates think they do. Higher education needs to address this people-skills gap. Research from 2011, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published online in Personality and Social Psychology Review, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. Almost 75 percent of students in 2011 rated themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years earlier.

Employers and parents of tech generation students are expecting that the college experience will build their interpersonal skills—and empathy. New research has shown that social learning and out-of-class learning are crucial in academic and professional success—especially in fields that prize innovation. Why have a residential campus? One answer is to develop those interpersonal and social skills.

The Southwest Association of College and University Housing Officers International says “Living on campus gives students an academic edge by earning higher grades, providing opportunities for learning communities and faculty access, and promotes their future growth by helping them stay connected to the college environment.” Add developing interpersonal skills to that list, and the bricks and sticks campus and residence hall is more relevant than ever. 


Rockwell Hall at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


2.  Living Learning Models

Campus leadership can point to Living Learning Models (LLMs) as residential facilities where inside- and outside-of-class learning are integrated and fostered.  

LLMs will continue to develop as a residence hall type that address the technological and interpersonal aspects of learning. In our view, the scale of the LLM must be right-sized for the student’s life experience level. Communities of 25 to 30 students with more traditional two beds per room and community spaces outside the bedroom, with a community bathroom “traditional” set-up, for example, are preferred for freshmen, who are easing into college life and looking to build new relationships. Sophomores and juniors might be housed in a more semi-suite or full-suite style accommodation, which could be a combination of shared or private bedrooms but with a private bathroom, kitchenette, and common space within the suite serving two to four students. Meanwhile, seniors and graduate students looking to transition to professional and/or family life would fit better in apartment-style units with full kitchens.

Campus location of LLMs should be thoughtful. Placing freshmen closer to the academic and student life core of campus is intended to let them absorb campus traditions, participate in clubs and extracurricular activities, and gain that out-of-class experience. Older students move to the edge of campus for increased privacy or for easier access to an off-campus internship and employment. The placement of LLMs can also be affected by their specific academic focus. An engineering-focused LLM, for example, might logically be situated near what were traditionally engineering labs and academic spaces outside the LLM. 

The most successful LLMs have strong academic sponsorship. The LLM thrives when an academic department has a deep connection and sense of belonging infused in the space—hence, another prime opportunity for the integration of maker-spaces.

3.    Diversity

To their credit, college campuses have become more diverse in recent decades but are also the settings for recent political and social upheaval. Colleges and universities, because of their scale and sheer numbers of students, can also be places where students divide themselves by social, racial, and economic lines. Even in diverse campuses, students from similar backgrounds tend to run together. But with this challenge comes an opportunity. Universities now view diversity as a desirable educational outcome.

Residence halls are now seen as important settings in nurturing empathy and understanding and in bringing diverse populations together. Schools are interested in making the campus a place where appreciation of individual differences is an outcome. They want graduates to leave with experience in how to work and interact with those different from themselves. This is ultimately why they are striving to become more diverse.

The flipside of this diversity is that at college, expectations are high for students living away from home, typically, for the first time. Tension can easily become magnified, causing significant rifts in the social fabric.

Campuses need to be more intentional about spaces, staffing, and scale in order to nurture social interaction across diverse groups. Part of this is the scale of residence halls, as we noted above, providing freshmen with a more intimately scaled living quarters can further the one-on-one contact that breaks down barriers.

4.    A broad conversation that requires institutional change

The residence hall of the future brings together functions traditionally found in residence halls, classroom buildings, computer labs and in some instances recreation, parking, dining, retail, and other functions. To be achieved successfully and to be properly funded, the design of this residence hall will require collaboration between campus administration, residence life personnel, academic faculty and facilities managers, and even corporate partners for maker spaces and learning laboratories. Trying to integrate these functions can be a logistical and bureaucratic challenge when funding and programming is siloed by department. A lasting and permanent change in administration and funding of residence projects is a beneficial and necessary step forward in creating the residence hall of tomorrow.

What’s next?

Across most disciplines in higher education, we’re seeing a shift away from formal classroom instruction. If, as we predict, teaching and learning will become co-located in residence facilities, this will be a paradigm shift for campus planners, administrators, students, and professors. It also begs another kind of question. When residence halls are microcosms of a college campus, what happens in the larger surrounding campus? What’s its raison d’être? One answer, which we hope to explore in the future, is that the campus features sites for high-impact learning and intensive research. High-impact learning—the most effective learning—includes features we have mentioned such as team building, maker spaces, and living-learning models.

About the Author

Sean Studzinski

Student housing life is shifting, and Sean Studzinski has been at the forefront of these changes, having designed residence halls for private developers and higher education clients for nearly two decades.

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