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UI living-learning communities to expand

BY NINA EARNEST | DECEMBER 10, 2010 7:10 AM

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The University of Iowa is introducing four new living-learning communities next fall, a move outlined in the UI's strategic plan as part of a push to increase student retention.

The new communities — Political Process, Education, Journalism and Mass Communication, and a group dedicated to open majors called Explore.Dream.Discover.Experience — are scheduled to be the newest of the 16 living-learning opportunities offered on campus next year. Rienow Hall is set to be the first all living-learning dormitory.

Living-learning communities — groups arranged in residence halls according to interests — have been part of the UI housing experience for roughly 15 years. But with the introduction of the 2010-16 strategic plan "Great Opportunities, Bold Expectations," the university aims for all incoming UI students to participate in living-learning communities.

Colleen Shaull, the assistant manager for contracts and assignments, said the increase is in response to student interest and academic department request.

Susan Lagos Lavenz, the associate dean for teacher education and student services in the UI College of Education, said the college initiated the creation of the Education Community.

"We did it so that incoming students have an advantage of living in a community that supports its career aspirations, academics and social transition to campus life," Lagos Lavenz said.

Lagos Lavenz said the 50-person Education group for next year was already filling up.

During the 2009 academic year, the UI reserved 1,115 beds for living-learning communities. The number of available beds jumped to 1,426 this year and is estimated to reach slightly more than 1,500 in 2011.

UI officials previously estimated the cost of establishing living learning communities to be about $10,000 a year — the salary for the graduate assistant overseeing the group's activities.

While studies show living in such a community has positive effects, one expert said universities should keep varying levels of student interest in mind. Martha L.A. Stassen, director of assessment at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has conducted a study on the effectiveness of living-learning communities, said individual students have numerous interests, and some don't necessarily want to be part of a living-learning community.

"Flexibility is almost a necessity with places as big as our universities," Stassen said.

Beth Ingram, the UI associate provost for undergraduate education, said flexibility was the basis of the university's approach.

"[Living-learning communities] cannot be one-size-fits-all," she said.

Officials plan to continue introducing living-learning communities in the future, but Ingram said they aren't considering making communities mandatory.

Audrey Smith, a freshman living in the Honors Nexus in Mayflower, said she thought the introduction of more communities was a good way to pair students with others with the same interests.

"I'm not sure everyone would feel that way," the 19-year-old said. "As for me, I think that's a great idea."


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