Where Ducks Live: Student Success and Housing within the Context of The Division of Student Life 

By Philippe Bou Malham and Brian Clark, Ph.D. 

Office of Assessment and Research, Division of Student Life 

The University of Oregon (UO) is a public teaching and research university and is one of only two universities in the Greater Northwest that are part of the American Association of Universities. However, with 28% of first-time, full-time freshmen identifying as a student of color and almost 40% receiving Pell grants, more needs to be explored in terms of understanding the factors that contribute to student success (University of Oregon Institutional Research Snapshot). 

There were four major objectives of this project: 

  1. Does living on campus during the first academic year contribute to student success outcomes compared to living off campus?
    1. Cumulative GPA
    2.  Retention (Year 2, Year 3, Year 4) 
    3. Graduation (6 Year, Years to Grad) 
  2. Does living on campus during the first academic year contribute to student wellness and engagement? 
  3. What are the trends in student success outcomes for students who break their on-campus leases compared to those that remain on campus and those that have always lived off-campus? 
    1. Cumulative GPA
    2. Retention (Year 2, Year 3, Year 4)
    3. Graduation (6 Year, Years to Grad) 
  4. Is there a relationship between population specific programming within University Housing that can explain the variance in student success outcomes? 

Living on Campus: Achievement and Persistence 

Summary 

First-time, full-time freshmen from the US have higher GPAs, higher retention rates, higher graduation rates, and faster graduation times when they spend their first academic year living in University Housing at the University of Oregon. 

Background 

Educational research on student success suggests that admissions policies and university selectivity are the strongest predictors of success in that more selective institutions generally have better outcomes. Due to the selection bias at the institutional level, it is difficult to determine whether more selective institutions are better equipped to help students succeed academically or are simply admitting students that are better equipped to succeed and would do so in other settings. A study comparing private and public institutions suggests that public schools would outperform private schools in graduation rates given the same levels of expenditure and incoming student characteristics (Scott, Bailey, & Kienzl, 2006). Unsurprisingly, pre-enrollment characteristics (e.g., high school GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and number of college-level credits at admission) are often the strongest predictors of student success. Other commonly used predictors include certain demographic characteristics (e.g., ethnicity, first generation status, and in-state student status) as well as post-enrollment program participation (e.g., living on campus). 

The Data 

Residential, student, and achievement records for first-time, full-time freshmen (FTFTF) were combined for each FTFTF cohort at the UO between 2006 and 2014. The outcomes of interest were cumulative GPA at the end of each of the first four academic years; retention to the fall of years two, three, and four; graduation within six years; and time to graduation. The main predictor of interest was living situation (on campus vs. off-campus) for the duration of the first academic year. Control variables included demographics (gender [male, female], ethnicity according to federal coding [grouped into advantaged: White and Asian vs. disadvantaged: all other races/ethnicities]), state residency [in-state, out-of-state], and generation status [first-generation, continuing-generation]) and pre-enrollment characteristics (high school GPA, SAT/ACT score [ACT converted to SAT scale], and advanced placement [AP] or International Baccalaureate [IB] credits). For socio-economic status (SES), students’ permanent addresses at the time of admission were matched to US Census tracts, and available economic indicators from the American Community Survey for each tract were combined into a composite indicator of SES. Because tract information was available only for students from the US, it was necessary to exclude international students from analyses. 

Results and Interpretation 

The following tables display the differences in Achievement and Persistence for First-Time Full-Time Students Living on Campus for the Duration of their First Academic Year Compared to Students Who Live Off-Campus (2006–2014).

Cumulative GPA 

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
+0.13 +0.14 +0.14 +0.17

Retention

to year 2 to year 3 to year 4
+5% +7% +8%

Graduation

6-year grad years to grad
+8% -0.15

These tables represent the random-effects, meta-analytic results of the set of linear regressions (for GPA and time to graduation) and logistic regressions (for retention and six-year graduation) used to explain the outcomes in terms of living situation and the control variables. In other words, there is an overall benefit to living on campus for the duration of the first academic year across the eight cohorts of FTFTF between 2006 and 2014, controlling for demographics and pre-enrollment characteristics. 

FTFTF who live on campus score an average of 0.13 points higher than do FTFTF who live off-campus on their first-year cumulative GPA. This difference increases to 0.17 points by the fourth year. FTFTF who live on campus return in the fall of their second year at a rate that is 5 percentage points higher, on average, than do FTFTF who live off-campus. This difference in retention increases to 8 percentage points by the fourth year. FTFTF who live on campus graduate at a rate that is 8 percentage points higher, on average, than that of FTFTF who live off-campus, and they graduate 0.15 academic years (roughly equivalent to one academic term) sooner. 

Limitations 

All comparisons pertain strictly to US students and represent differences in achievement and persistence between FTFTF who lived only in conventional residence halls (i.e., not in academic residential communities or residential freshmen interest groups) and FTFTF who never lived on campus, throughout the first academic year. Not all control variables were available for all cohorts (e.g., first-generation status was available starting in 2009). 

Beyond Achievement and Persistence: Student Wellness and Engagement 

Summary 

First-time, full-time freshmen from the US are more satisfied with life, have a higher sense of social-belonging, engage in more extracurricular activities, and have a higher tendency to seek campus resources for help and support at the end of their first year when they spend that first year living on campus. 

The Data 

Survey measurements on several wellness and engagement constructs were collected at the beginning and end of the first academic year of FTFTF in the 2015 cohort. Baseline measurements, as well as demographics and pre-enrollment characteristics used in previously described analyses, were used for propensity-score matching of three groups of FTFTF: those who lived in conventional residence halls, those who lived in academic residential communities, and those who lived off-campus. Those groups were then compared on end-of-year outcomes. 

Results and Interpretation 

Propensity-Score Matched Residential Group Comparisons on Life Satisfaction, Social-Belonging, Extracurricular Activity, and Resource Seeking at the End of the First Year at the UO (2015–2016) 

Propensity-Score Matched Comparison Life Satisfaction Social Belonging Extracurricular Activity Resource Seeking

Conventional residence hall vs. academic residential community

-0.02 -0.22 0.23 0.08
Conventional residence hall vs. off-campus 0.81* 0.74* 0.43 0.18*
Academic residential community vs. off-campus 0.77* 1.43‡ 0.95‡ 0.07†

Note: †p < .10, *p < .05, ‡p < .01; see Appendix for measurement items. 

This table shows weighted regression coefficients for propensity-score matched group comparisons. Differences between FTFTF living on campus and those living off-campus emerged on four important outcomes after rigorous control for variables that make the students compared different. Generally, FTFTF who lived on campus during their first year were more satisfied with life, had a higher sense of social belonging, engaged in more extracurricular activity, and showed a greater tendency to seek campus resources for help and support than did students who lived off-campus. One interesting caveat is that although students living in conventional residence halls engaged in significantly more extracurricular activity than did students living off-campus in uncontrolled analysis, that difference was non-significant when groups were propensity-score matched. However, the size of the difference was still double that of the conventional residence hall vs. academic residential community comparison and roughly half that of the academic residential community vs. off-campus comparison, suggesting a staircase pattern. That is, living in an academic residential community may facilitate engaging in more extracurricular activity than does living in a conventional residence hall, which may facilitate engaging in more extracurricular activity than does living off-campus, even when closely matching groups on pre-several existing attributes. 

Limitations 

Although propensity-score matching of residential groups increases the plausibility that the observed differences between residential groups are causal, this must be tempered by the possibility that there are omitted variables (i.e., variables not used in propensity-score matching) that may still be confounded with residential group differences. Additionally, these results represent a single sample for a single study, not a multiple cohort meta-analysis; replication is recommended. 

Potential Early-Warning Signs that Students May be at Risk 

Summary 

FTFTF who break their leases with University Housing and move off-campus before the end of their first academic year do worse, are less likely to be retained, and are less likely to graduate than are students who complete their first academic year on campus and students who live off-campus. Breaking a lease with Housing may be a warning sign that students are at risk for dropping out. 

Background 

The elements of an effective early warning system for students at risk of failure or drop out are not fully understood. Nevertheless, many universities are adopting strategies that identify at risk students in time for an intervention to be possible. Some successful strategies include creating connections to campus resources early and effectively (a strategy that University Housing is uniquely placed to implement), connecting students to positive role models (a strategy that is the hallmark or ARCs), and leveraging Learning Management Systems for insight into student performance (Kuh, 2007; Macfadyen & Dawson, 2010). 

The Data 

FTFTF who spent at least four weeks of an academic term living on campus and remain enrolled for at least another four weeks after their housing check-out date were identified and separated from the FTFTF who completed their first academic year on campus (or who broke their lease early and withdrew immediately from the university). This identified group of FTFTF amounted to an average of 7.83% or between 120 and 200 students per year of the FTFTF who lived on campus between 2006 and 2014. 

Results and Interpretation 

The following tables display the differences in Achievement and Persistence for First-Time Full-Time Students Leaving Housing Before the End of Their First Academic Year Compared to Students Who Live Off-Campus (2006–2014)

Cumulative GPA

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4

-0.07

[-0.12, -0.03]

-0.06

[-0.12, 0]

-0.05

[-0.11, 0.01]

-0.04

[-0.09, 0.02]

Retention

to year 2 to year 3 to year 4
-15.02% -12.27% -8.24%

Graduation

6-year grad years to grad
-10.70%

These tables represent the random-effects, meta-analytic results of the set of linear regressions (for GPA and time to graduation) and logistic regressions (for retention and six-year graduation) used to explain the outcomes in terms of living situation and the control variables. In other words, there is an overall 

detriment to moving off-campus during the first academic year compared to FTFTF who live off-campus their entire first year and consequently an even greater detriment compared to FTFTF who complete their first academic year on campus. 

FTFTF who break their Housing leases early and move off-campus score an average of 0.07 points lower on their first-year cumulative GPA than do FTFTF who live off-campus their entire first year. This difference amounts to 0.20 (or 0.13 + 0.07) when the comparison is to FTFTF who complete their first academic year on campus. The confidence interval of the estimate of the difference shown in brackets shows the limits of the interval within which most students would fall. By the end of the fourth year, the difference shrinks to 0.04 and becomes non-significant. Retention rates are also lower for students who break their Housing leases, but there is some recovery by the fall of the fourth year. Six-year graduation rates are 10.70 percentage points lower, and there is no significant difference in time to graduation. 

Limitations 

As these analyses were conducted on a subset of the data used in the achievement and persistence analyses, the same limitations apply. 

Factors that Mitigate Obstacles to Achievement and Persistence 

Summary 

The Building Business Leaders (BBL) Academic Residential Community (ARC) succeeds in mitigating the achievement gap between first-generation, racial/ethnic minority students in the ARC and other students applying to the College of Business. 

Background 

The landscape of the university has changed significantly in the last twenty years with an influx of first-generation students (i.e., students whose parents do not have four-year college degrees). This influx has been explained by the increase in student financial aid packages awarded and open admissions policies (Próspero & Vohra-Gupta, 2007). First-generation students tend to come from low-income families, have lower high school GPAs and lower ACT/SAT scores, have received inadequate advising, lack sufficient information about college, take more remedial coursework in the first year of college, and less involved in extracurricular activities compared to their continuing-generation peers (Choy, 2001). Although financial aid is available to students with financial need, it is often not enough to cover the cost of attendance. Without adequate support, financial burdens make it difficult for low-income, first-generation students to complete their degrees (Kuh, Pace, & Verper, 1997). By providing a cultural support network for first-generation students through academic, financial, and social resources of the institution, first-generation students can be better integrated socially and academically, which may lead to greater academic success (Próspero & Vohra-Gupta, 2007). Living-learning communities, i.e., ARCs, have shown some success in supporting first generation minority students through their critical first academic year (Kuh, 2007). 

The Data 

The BBL provides support and structure to students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds applying to the College of Business at the end of their first academic year. BBL students are required to take BA 101 and BA 199 together with other students in the ARC. Grades on these two classes as well as fall term GPA and first year cumulative GPA were collected for the 2015-2016 BBL cohort and for two control groups who took the same classes during the 2015–2016. The first control group consisted of students who had declared pre-business as a major, and the second control group consisted of students who had not declared pre-business as a major. 

Results and Interpretation 

First Year Cumulative GPA by First Generation and Minority Status (2015–2016) 

  BBL Control 1 Control 2
All students 2.73 2.97 2.93
First-generation students 2.80 2.56 2.67

This table represents the mean cumulative GPA at the end of the first academic year for the BBL students and students in the two control groups. When the entire groups are compared, it would appear that BBL students have the lowest mean cumulative GPA. However, given that the BBL is designed to support students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, it is more meaningful to compare students who fit that description across groups. The first-generation, minority students in the BBL have a higher mean cumulative GPA than first-generation, minority students in either of the control groups. The BBL program appears to mitigate the achievement gap between first-generation, minority students and the average student in the control groups. 

Limitations 

These analyses have a smaller set of control variables than the previously described analyses. 

Conclusions 

Students who opt to live on campus their first year and continue to live on-campus do better on many metrics of student success. They have statistically significantly higher cumulative GPAs, are more likely to remain in school, and are more likely to graduate than their peers that live off campus. Some early warning indicators are those students who break their leases within the first year. Students who opt to live on-campus and then decide to break their leases have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school and have lower cumulative GPAs than their peers who continue to live on-campus and their peers who have always lived off-campus. Students living on campus were more satisfied with life, had a higher sense of social belonging, engaged in more extracurricular activity, and showed a greater tendency to seek campus resources for help and support than did students who lived off-campus. Supportive environments focused on first-generation and minority students can positively impact student success and may decrease achievement gaps. 

References 

Choy, S. (2001). Essay: Students whose parents did not go to college: Post-secondary access, persistence and attainment. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Educational Statistics. 

Kuh, G.D. (2007). How to help students succeed. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53, 12-13. 

Macfadyen, L.P., & Daweson, S. (2010). Mining LMS data to develop an “early warning system” for educators: A proof of concept. Computers & Education, 51, 588-599. 

Kuh, G., Pace, C., & Verper, N. (1997). The development of process indicators to estimated student gains associated with good practices in undergraduate education. Review in Higher Education, 38(4), 435-454. 

Próspero & Vohra-Gupta, M. (2007). First generation college students: Motivation, integration, and academic achievement. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 31, 963-975.