Expanded programs open living-learning communities to all first-year students

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Monday, October 29, 2012

In its 2010 strategic plan, the University of Iowa set an ambitious goal—expand residence-hall-based living-learning communities to the point where every first-year student could participate.

Next fall, the university will meet that goal. All incoming students who live on campus will join a living-learning community (LLC) of their choice.

“We’ve seen what a difference living-learning communities can make for students,” says Beth Ingram, associate provost for undergraduate education. “Expanding these programs makes those benefits available to virtually all our new students.”

LLCs are residential communities that connect students with common goals or interests. Many universities have embraced the concept, but the UI is among the first to make it a standard part of the first-year experience.

“We knew students at Iowa were more successful when they participated inLLCs, so we decided that every first year student should benefit from them.”
—Von Stange, University Housing & Dining

Some LLCs have a connection to a specific major—engineering, for example, or business. Others focus on topics like photography, music, or leadership. (See the complete list.)

All set out to provide a sense of community and a close network of peers that make a big university feel smaller.

Students registering for on-campus housing this fall are required to choose their top five learning communities from about 30 different options. In the spring, students can select a room in one of their preferred communities from a residence hall floor plan—sort of like picking an airplane seat.

“We knew students at Iowa were more successful when they participated in LLCs, so we decided that every first year student should benefit from them,” says Von Stange, assistant vice president for student life and senior director of University Housing & Dining. “Working with other units, Housing staff developed a plan that makes it a reality.”

The emphasis on LLCs also has informed plans for the university’s next residence hall—the first new UI hall to be built since 1968. The $53 million West Campus Residence Hall, slated for completion in 2015, is designed especially for LLCs, with pods of rooms clustered near tutoring, study, and communal space.

Growing LLCs is part of the university’s renewed emphasis to student-success programs. Other success-oriented initiatives include the On Iowa! pre-semester program for first-year students, expanded retention efforts, and a commitment to scholarship support.

“Together, these programs help us ensure that more students feel at home at the university and ultimately go on to achieve their educational and career goals,” Ingram says.