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Four-year housing trend takes off at NY community college

Onondaga Community College expands living-learning communities
University Business, September 2016
Strengthening the community: An entire residence hall at Onondaga Community College is now dedicated to about a dozen themed living/learning communities—proving you need not be at a four-year institution to experience the living/learning experience.
Strengthening the community: An entire residence hall at Onondaga Community College is now dedicated to about a dozen themed living/learning communities—proving you need not be at a four-year institution to experience the living/learning experience.

A community college in upstate New York has seized on a residential life trend spreading rapidly at four-year institutions: the living-learning community.

The concept—meant to encourage campus engagement and retention—houses together students pursuing the same major or who have similar lifestyle interests.

At Onondaga Community College, a dozen or so communities—which have grown from a single dormitory hallway to fill an entire building—are designed around themes such as wellness, criminal justice and STEM, says Cathleen Dotterer, the executive director of housing and campus services.

“In a community college course with many commuters, you, as a student, may not know how to contact them outside of class,” Dotterer says. “Here, that natural tendency to develop conversations around course content is a lot easier. Now, you have a classmate on the same floor with the same text the next day.”

About 270 students—representing approximately 30 percent of those who live on campus—will be a part of living-learning communities in the 2016-17 school year. Faculty—who teach the courses connected to each community—provide regular tutoring and test-review sessions in the residence halls.

“It’s key that we make it easy for faculty to get involved, so they can plug in and do what they’re great at—which is educating students on content,” Dotterer says.

Faculty also work with residential life staff to identify other enrichment activities, such as movie nights and field trips that bond students more deeply around common interests, she adds.

For example, a farm-to-table group studying global nutrition visited afarm to get a firsthand look at livestock and the starting point of the food supply. The group then ate at a restaurant that served only locally-sourced food.

“We’re trying to figure out fun waysto connect to the course content,” Dotterer says.

Residential life staff try to help students develop better study strategies and time management skills. Early surveys of the two-year-old program show higher retention in housing and fewer roommate conflicts.

“If you’re ever struggling there’s always someone nearby who can help you,” says Maison Gladue, a business administration major. “Everyone in the community is learning the same subject so it’s easier for us to relate back to each other.”

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