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February 02, 2008

Richard Florida

Who's Your Dorm Room?

« The Developer-Industrial Complex | Main | Economic Development from the Ground Up »

Over at the comurb mailing list. Ohio State university sociologist, Kent Schwirian summarizes the results of an OSU study of the relationship between where students live and their grade point average and the time they take to graduate.

Percent graduating in four years:

  • Walking distance 60.8%
  • Near campus 47.5%
  • Rest of county 36.7%
  • Outside of county 21.1%

Grade point average:

  • Residence hall 3.33
  • Walking distance 3.16
  • Near campus  3.12
  • Rest of county 2.97
  • Outside of county 2.94

Wow: Those are pretty strong patterns. Anyone out there want to speculate on the factors that might lie behind this.


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Brian Hollar

It seems like there are several possible explanations for what is going on here:

1) Those who live on campus are more likely to be subsidized by their parents who are giving them additional motivation to do well and graduate on time.

2) Part-time students and students who work or have familiies will be much more likely to live off campus. These factors will tend to prolong the time it takes to graduate and lower GPA.

3) Living on campus makes it much easier to visit professors, go to the library, and participate in study groups.

4) Dorm life is less comfortable than most life off of campus. This gives students extra incentive to finish school sooner.

5) If a student who live outside of the state or outside of the country has some kind of family or financial crisis, they are less able to deal with that and school than students who have faimily and homes close by.

6) Students living on campus may be more prone to hang out with other students who are intent on graduating in four years. This may help socialize them to have similar goals and expectations.

Just a few thoughts...

Zoe B

Did Schwirian control for year of college? Around here the freshmen are encouraged to live on campus, so older cohorts of undergraduates get pushed off campus. How do the students' GPAs differ by year in school?

Honors students here have preference for on-campus housing after the freshman year. Did Schwirian control for anything like that?

Walking-distance housing costs more than stuff farther away. There may be a selection effect for family wealth (correlated with graduation from better school systems).

I'd also like to know how location of residence correlates with drinking behavior. And how residence in a fraternity/sorority compares to that of a campus dorm, re: Schwirian's outcome measures.

Schwirian maybe should remove (or otherwise control for) engineering students, as they they have such a long roster of required courses that they commonly take longer than 4 years to graduate.

"Student Life" departments might know a lot about the importance of living near campus. What do they say?

Vincent Clement

I think those living on campus are more likely to be subsidized by the university and/or government funding. That type of funding is likely more restrictive than parental funding.

Dorm life less comfortable? I suppose doing your own laundry is a chore, but having your food cooked for you is a big plus. When I lived in residence I didn't even have to clean my room or wash my linens - it was all done for me. Residence wasn't that uncomfortable.

Students who live on or near campus are likely putting their education first. They have invested time and money to move from another city or from the burbs. This lines up with Brian's point about motivation.

Further, students who live on or near campus have other students as friends, whereas students who live farther away or at home likely have a larger set of non-student (or at least not from the same educational institution) friends.

Longer-distance and stay-at-home students also have to spend more time travelling, reducing school work. Some classes and labs may end at 10:00 pm - a time that is totally inconvenient if you have to travel an hour to get back home.

When I lived on or near campus, I tended to choose afternoon classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I could sleep in, wake up 30 minutes before class, get dressed, grab a bite to eat and just make it for the start of class. You can't do that if it takes 30, 60 or 90 minutes to travel to school.

Brian's third point is bang on. In residence, there were other students in my classes and program so it was very easy to ask questions and compare notes. Even living near campus, that was still easy to do. Hard to do that when you live with mom and dad.

But I think it comes down to the intensity of social interaction. Living on or near campus, you are immersed in the total university experience. You hang out with your friends. You study with your friends. You go out with your friends, you have a drink or two (or way more), share stories and do the occasional stupid thing. It gets the creative juices flowing. It stimulates your brain.

If you live much farther from campus or with mom and dad, your social interaction, especially with like-minded peers, will be less intense, if it exists at all. I know lots of people who regret not moving out of their parents house for at least part of their university experience. They craved that level of interaction, the high degree of information exchange.

Zoe B

Students here commonly wander from year to year between next-door-to-campus and farther away. They get tired of the noise and the expense, so they go farther out. Then they get bored from having nothing going on out on the street. Or they get tired of leaving the bars in time to take a bus home. Or they get scared off of driving drunk. And they move back downtown. Regarding any measure of success in school, I am more concerned about our students' drinking behavior than about where they live.

Vincent Clement

I drank like a fish in University and I managed to get my degree in four years with a respectable GPA. When push came to shove, I walked passed the beer fridge and concentrated on school work. Plenty of other friends did the same thing.


Great comments. Getting a Garden State scholarship enabled me to move away from home and live on campus - a dorm freshman year and then an apartment nearby. Our rent for five guys 1976-1979 era was $275 a month - that's about $55 per. It took me out of a dysfunctional peer group and put me in a much more functional one. Both groups "partied" - but the folks back home were into tough-guyism and petty crime; the people at Rutgers dared about politics, music and so on. Plus, you didn't have to "hide" the fact you were smart - it was OK. For me, this peer experience meant a great deal. My guess at an university like OSU where a good number of students come from working class and less advantaged backgrounds being on campus and in a new more productive peer environment helps.

Zoe B

Vincent, Drinking to excess *is* a part of the American college experience. A college friend of mine worshipped Hunter S. Thompson, , graduated with a few brain cells left, and went off to do electrical engineering for Hughes Aircraft. But - by all measures, our students' drinking behavior is getting worse: number of binges per month, number of drinks per binge, heavy drinking starting on Wednesday rather than Friday, number of stomachs pumped per week, number of drunk-driving accidents, number of deaths caused by drunk driving, number of deaths caused by falling out of windows or off balconies while drunk.... We have had a few riots downtown. On one such occasion residents of the student high-rises on either side of a state highway threw refrigerators off their balconies onto a street full of rioting students, and we are lucky no one got killed. Our local paper just covered the trial of a college junior who drove drunk last year: he hit 3 other students, killed 2 outright and left the 3rd nearly a vegetable. He's just been convicted of manslaughter and got 20 years. Four lives destroyed, four families grieving, and this is just one case. (I won't even go into the ways that student drinking has has damaged the quality of urban life for our permanent residents). I have a hard time believing that this magnitude of drinking does not affect students' grades.

hayden fisher

Great comments, one quick point to make:

A lot of the college binge drinking exists because students are imbibing shots and bottles in their dorm rooms because they can't drink legally on or off campus. If we lowered the drinking age to 18, the problem would be much more controllable; and it would take place more regularly in controlled environments. For example, if there's a group of college kids going to a concert, they binge drink to excess before the show because they know they cannot drink at all at the show. It's hard to spotlight the genuine source of the problem when everything takes place behind closed doors. If we sorted-out those who binge because they can't drink socially from those who would binge anyway, we could zero in closer to the problem and get help to those who need it most; and also avoid a lot of accidental binge-drinking incidents by students who wouldn't binge-drink in their rooms and apartments if they could drink legally outside of them.


Drinking age is 18 in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, and 19 in all other Canadian provinces, so perhaps someone's already done a study comparing the rates of binge drinking between jurisdictions with 18/19/21 drinking ages.

One visible difference at Canadian universities is that fraternities and sororities are far fewer and much smaller. My guess is that they're less appealing when everyone already knows someone old enough to buy alcohol.

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