All incoming UI freshman to be placed in living-learning communities


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All incoming University of Iowa freshmen next year will be required to sign up for living-learning communities — a community in residence halls made up of students in the same major — and UI officials are looking forward to the new changes.

“We are looking at residence halls as another means of helping students succeed,” said Andrew Beckett, an assistant dean of the University College at the University of Iowa. “Students in learning communities have a better chance of building relationships together.”

Students registering for on-campus housing next fall have to choose their top five communities from around 30 different available options. In the spring of 2013, students will choose a room in one of their chosen communities from a residence-hall floor plan.

This concept is new to the UI. Up to now, the UI has students choose a neighborhood on either the East or the West Side of the river, and then officials work to assign students to certain residence halls.

“Historically, students have been able to pick dorms at the University of Iowa,” said Beth Ingram, associate provost for undergraduate education. “Some are more popular than others.”

With this change, students can now focus on specific attributes of where they want to live, Ingram said.

The UI’s $53 million West Campus Residence Hall — slated for completion in 2015 — focuses specifically on living-learning communities with pods of rooms clustered near study, tutoring, and communal space.

Ingram said some of the living-learning communities will be basic — possibly housing several different majors.

“Some of the communities are pretty generic and just look like dorm floors,” she said.

Beckett, an expert in living-learning communities, believes they will help incoming students excel.

“We’re trying to create a community that will affirm positive values and personal interests,” he said.

UI sophomore Aaron Haubrich said he thought the new housing changes will be good for incoming students but was also hesitant about whether they are the best choice.

“I don’t know if they’re the type of thing every freshman should do,” he said.

Haubrich believed that living-learning communities should be especially available to students who really have a firm idea of what career path they want to take.

“I think it’s a really good idea for kids who definitely think they know what they want to do,” he said.

A problem commonly associated with living-learning communities is their lack of diversity because students live only around people in their major or interest. Beckett agreed this is a problem but said the gains in joining a living-learning community outweigh any potential negatives.

Beckett said students always want to live in a certain hall but believes that’s not as important as those who surround a person.

“Whom you live with is probably more important than where you live,” he said.

At Iowa State University 70 percent of the incoming freshman class volunteers to live in a learning community.

Iowa State has 80 total learning communities with 20 of them having a residential component. The other 60 are all strictly academic.

“The learning community really lets them connect to the university and make friends,” said Doug Gruenewald, co-director of learning communities at Iowa State.

He said signing up for learning communities have never been a requirement for students.
Gruenewald supports the UI’s decision to make enrolling in such a community necessary for all incoming students applying for on-campus housing.

“I think it’s great that they’re trying to do more with living-learning communities,” he said.

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