The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 30

Shannon R. Dean * Stephanie L. Dailey

Living-learning communities-although
not defined as such initially-have existed informally since the beginning of higher education in the United States. With the founding
of Harvard in 1636, faculty and students lived
and learned together. This was philosophically
and pedagogically a part of the English system
of education that the U.S. adopted and modified (Thelin, 2004). Today LLCs take many
different forms, from interest or thematic communities and first-year experience programs
to programmatic residency-based initiatives
(Sriram & Shushok, 2010; Whitcher-Skinner,
Dees, & Watkins, 2017). Although LLCs can
look different from campus to campus, the
tenets of many LLCs involve cultivating intentional interactions with faculty, requiring
residency, and fostering social and academic
learning.
Today, LLCs have become more widespread
as faculty and staff pursue effective ways of enhancing the curriculum and building community among teachers and students (Sriram &
Shushok, 2010). LLCs help students feel connected to their institution, which can reduce attrition rates. Although LLCs were developed to
increase student retention, the benefits expand
beyond graduation rates.

BENEFITS OF LIVING-LEARNING
COMMUNITIES
There are many benefits of LLCs for students
and colleges alike (Garrett & Zabriskie, 2004;
Sriram & Shushok, 2010; Stier, 2014). For
example, students who participate in these
communities often have higher GPAs and
spend more time in study groups preparing for
class and tests (Hernandez, Schultz, Estrada,
Woodcock, & Chance, 2013; Kuh & Hu, 2001).
30

Students' Experiences in a STEM LLC

As part of many LLCs, students have shared
course experiences with others having similar
academic interests, increasing the potential
that they will form study groups in their residence halls. In addition, faculty are often assigned to oversee or live within an LLC. This
supervision helps students form meaningful
connections with professors outside of the
classroom, making it more likely that they will
persist and graduate (Pascarella & Terenzini,
2005). 	
Engagement with faculty and interacting with them in informal ways can result in
increased confidence to approach them for
help (Garrett & Zabriskie, 2004). In addition,
faculty often hold office hours in LLC residence halls, providing more opportunities for
students to make and build connections with
professors in their programs. Formal and informal connections with faculty can increase
students' satisfaction with where they live and
with their college community.

IMPORTANCE OF LLCS FOR
STEM STUDENTS
Beyond the general benefits of these communities, LLCs can be even more influential and
pivotal for the success of STEM students in
particular. Many of the students who initially
pursue the science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics fields do not graduate with
degrees in those majors (Change the Equation,
2015; U.S. Department of Education, 2009),
but LLCs can offer them academic and social
benefits that will increase retention (Lardner,
2014). STEM-focused LLCs have a positive
impact not only on GPAs, but also on academic satisfaction and support networks (Lardner,
2014; Sriram & Shushok, 2010). STEM stu-

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

Many participants commented
on the importance of their ability
to conduct research with faculty,
noting that this opportunity
contributed to their persistence in
STEM fields.

dents who conduct undergraduate research
with faculty, an important component of STEM
studies, are more satisfied and more likely to
continue on to graduate school (Webber, Laird,
& BrckaLorenz, 2013).
Although there is some information about
living-learning communities and STEM students' experiences separately, there is limited
research on their experiences within livinglearning communities. Students pursuing
degrees in STEM fields may experience higher
levels of stress than do their peers in other
fields (Lardner, 2014), so it is even more important that they experience a connection with
and support from faculty and administrators.
STEM majors are particularly difficult due to
the technically complex material that students
must master, and some students find themselves inadequately prepared for the rigor of
the coursework (Malcom & Feder, 2016). Students interested in these fields often struggle
with finding role models, applying classroom
material, and finding opportunities for research (Jahn & Myers, 2014), challenges that
often dissuade them from pursuing or continuing in STEM fields during college. LLCs
help students build, develop, and maintain
support networks and other resources neces-

sary for academic success. The ability to form
study groups with others pursuing similar
degrees, an important component of many
LLCs, allows for more interaction and collaboration with peers and ultimately more time
spent on academics (Lardner, 2014).
Yet even with the known benefits, there is
still much to be explored about the outcomes of
students who participate in LLCs, particularly
those involved in STEM LLCs. In fact, some
research alludes to potential negative outcomes
for students in LLCs (Schussler & Fierros,
2008; Spanierman et al., 2013), but researchers
have not fully explored this idea. There is also
more to learn about the range of experiences of
students who have participated in LLCs.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Although many studies address the purpose
and utility of LLCs, the research is often tied to
the importance of student involvement during
college (Tinto, 1993). Some scholars have used
Astin's (1993) theory of involvement to assess
the outcomes associated with student development within the college environment. According to Astin's inputs-environment-outcomes
(I-E-O) model, students come to college with
inputs (e.g., their identity and previous experiences), and the college environment can
shape and impact the outcomes. Understanding how the environment impacts students
and their development is fundamental within
this model, and it is often used as the rationale
for living-learning programs (Dunn & Dean,
2013). We used Astin's I-E-O model in the
current study to examine students' experiences
related to the environment created by participation in the LLC. We wanted to understand
how students perceived and interacted with the
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The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2

Contents
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