Living-Learning Programs contribute to student success and retention
Aligned with Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries strategic goals, Living-Learning Programs give more students access to experiences that help them succeed.
In 2022, when Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and the Board of Visitors identified access and affordability, now called Virginia Tech Advantage, as a leading priority for the university, they found a ready partner in a well-established and respected tradition for on-campus students: Living-Learning Programs (LLPs).
At the Board of Visitors’ June 5-6 quarterly meeting, Vice President for Student Affairs Frances Keene shared with board members how Living-Learning Programs support the Virginia Tech Advantage. She was joined for a discussion with board members by Temperance Rowell, faculty member in the College of Science and director of Orion living-learning community; O’Brian Martin, a junior and a member of the Innovate living-learning community; and Cailynn Jeffery, a recent graduate who was a member of Studio 72 living-learning community.
For decades, Virginia Tech has been a leader in best practices for Living-Learning Programs. Now, they are seen as a key component of the success of students and of the Virginia Tech Advantage. The initiative seeks to make the broad educational experience financially within reach for all admitted undergraduate students from Virginia.
“As a land-grant university, Virginia Tech is committed to providing educational opportunities to all members of the communities that we serve, including those prospective students who face financial challenges,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke, who co-sponsors the Virginia Tech Advantage with Sands. “By providing financial aid and critical support to students in need, we enhance the diversity of the student population, thereby enabling delivery of an enriching learning experience for all students.”
“We know from outcomes data that LLPs help students achieve a sense of belonging, faster connections to their areas of interest, faculty support, and academic success,” said Keene. “LLPs also improve several aspects of the student experience related to better academic outcomes, including time to graduation, student retention, graduation rates, and transformational experiences.”
Keene is co-chair of the Virginia Tech Advantage student experience working group. The group is identifying strategies that will help advance the commitment to improve student success at Virginia Tech.
The LLP concept
Living-Learning Programs at Virginia Tech are organized around a particular concept, interest, or population. LLP students live together in a dedicated residence hall space, with staff and resources dedicated to each community. Participants delve into special academic and co-curricular programming designed especially for them.
“Living-Learning Programs give students a chance to extend their education beyond the classroom, surround themselves with community and support, and improve their chances for academic success,” said Jamie Penven, director of Living-Learning Programs.
This fall, LLPs will include 19 living-learning communities, three residential colleges, and the Creativity and Innovation District at Virginia Tech, each with its own character and focus. Currently, 51 percent of Virginia Tech’s residential undergraduate students participate in a Living-Learning Program. In fall 2022, 5,122 students were part of more than 20 Living-Learning Programs.
The benefits of LLPs
Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, professor of education and human development and principal of Hereford Residential College at the University of Virginia, is a top researcher in the field of LLPs in higher education.
Inkelas said national research studies have shown that students’ participation in LLPs is related to several positive outcomes, including:
- Better grades
- Stronger retention
- Smoother transition from home to college
- Reduced binge drinking
- Greater appreciation of cultural diversity
- Enhanced sense of civic engagement
Students who participate in LLPs also report:
- More frequent interaction with faculty members outside of class
- Greater peer interaction, including studying together, going to social or co-curricular events together, and attending diversity-related activities together
- A healthy residence hall climate that supports students’ academic achievement and respects their social and cultural diversity
“We see the same strong outcomes in our LLPs,” said Penven. “In addition, students in Virginia Tech LLPs report high levels of finding social relationships that are supportive and rewarding, a better knowledge of resources that can help them succeed, feeling valued as a community member, feeling welcomed and that they belong, and finding meaningful relationships and involvement at Virginia Tech.”
“Virginia Tech offers its undergraduates a rich set of choices for their LLP experience that align with national findings,” said Inkelas. “Virginia Tech hosts three residential colleges, which are similar in organization and scope as the Ivy League versions — bringing together undergraduates from all class years with live-in faculty to explore topics of interest across the broad spectrum of a liberal arts education. Virginia Tech also offers students the opportunity to join living-learning communities. These communities are typically for first-year students and focus on a specific theme or student population, such as engineering or first-generation students. Virginia Tech students are fortunate to have such a wide array of living-learning options from which to choose.”
LLPs go Beyond Boundaries
Aligned with the goals set out by Beyond Boundaries, the university’s visioning, planning, and implementation document, LLPs reinforce the university’s core values and established strengths while being responsive to changes in the educational landscape – what students are interested in, what they need to succeed, and how best to engage them.
The university has set a strategic goal of increasing the number of residential students participating in Living-Learning Programs.
“As long as there are students and spaces for them, Living-Learning Programs will continue to be a key advantage for Virginia Tech students,” said Keene.
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