Residential Colleges Program gives first-year students communities

For some first-year college students, making the transition from high school to a university can be a daunting task. To some, it could be like moving from a small town to a sprawling metropolis, both figuratively and literally.

LSU Family WeekendStudents in the Business Residential College gathered during their recent convocation, marking their expected graduation year of 2016.
LSU Residential Life

To help ease that transition into university life, LSU offers first-year students the opportunity to enroll in the Residential Colleges Program, which helps students to prepare for their chosen discipline both in and out of the traditional classroom setting.

"The best way to describe the Residential Colleges Program is that it creates a small college environment inside of a university," said Steve Waller, director of LSU Residential Life.

The mission of the LSU Residential Colleges Program – a partnership between Residential Life and the LSU Office of Academic Affairs – is to provide a seamless living-learning environment for first-year students and to foster the development of three core outcomes: critical thinking ability, communication skills, and sense of community and social responsibility. This is achieved through student interaction with faculty and other freshmen beyond the boundaries of the more traditional classroom setting.

"First-year students are the ones that have the most common denominators in their curricula, so we've aimed the residential colleges at that demographic," said Robert Rohli, residential college faculty director and a professor in LSU's Department of Geography and Anthropology. "It's easier for them to schedule courses in common at that time, before they begin taking classes more involved with their majors."

LSU currently offers nine residential college programs, three non-discipline based programs and six discipline-based programs.

Non-discipline-based programs

Freshman Residential College – Herget Hall
Mission: To provide a living-learning atmosphere that eases the transition from high school to the university and from adolescence to adulthood and that prepares students to succeed in their major college.

Information Technology Residential College – Broussard Hall
Mission: To successfully transition first-year students interested in technology to the university by providing opportunities to socialize with other technology-oriented students, and by strengthening their confidence through community interaction.

Honors House – East and West Laville Halls
Mission: The Honors House provides a setting that fosters academic excellence and close personal interaction among students.

Discipline-based programs

Agriculture Residential College – Blake Hall
Mission: To assist students in developing leadership and communication skills as they transition into the university environment.

Basic Sciences Residential College – Evangeline Hall
Mission: To promote an environment conducive to learning, discovery, and engagement for entering first-year science and math majors.

Business Residential College - Residential College Complex – West Hall
Mission: To assist students in developing an understanding of business culture.

Engineering Residential College - Residential College Complex – North Hall
Mission: To improve retention rates in engineering and construction management through a first year experience that actively incorporates and engages faculty and students.

Global Connections Residential College – Residential College One – South Hall
Mission: To provide the students with a living-learning environment that highlights the ever more important connection between the local and global, and that allows the student to succeed in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected.

Mass Communication Residential College – Residential College Complex – South Hall
Mission: To provide a living and learning environment that allows for easy transition into university life for Mass Communication students via exposure to a diversity of people and thought, an understanding of professional and ethical behavior, and support for critical and creative thinking.

Rohli added that it makes sense both logistically and developmentally to emphasize the program with first-year students.

"It's a year of huge transitions for students from high school to college, moving to another city or even another country," he said. "Having that experience that helps to facilitate learning at the university level is really critical in that first year."

In residential colleges, first-year students reside in the same facility and enroll in special sections of general academic courses taken with other residential college students, Waller said. In some cases, residential colleges even have tutors or LSU faculty members who hold entry-level classes in the colleges.

Students living in residential colleges can also apply what they learn in the classroom through various community activities within the college. For example, Science Residential College students have made ice cream by using liquid nitrogen, and Herget Residential College students have held "Theatre Night" events that include a communal dinner, a trip to view an LSU Theatre production and a behind-the-scenes experience.

"Learning can take place in unpredictable ways sometimes," Rohli said. "A student may only be in class for 15 or so hours a week, but there's another 153 hours in that week where there are learning opportunities."

With greater academic emphasis and faculty involvement, the residential college atmosphere encourages studying, provides access to exceptional academic and social support, and makes it easy to establish new friendships.

Jonathon Hyde, associate director of residence education for LSU Residential Life, said that students have told him that engaging with faculty members within the residential college environment helps to humanize the faculty.

"The students begin to see faculty not just as the experts at the podium, but as people, too," he said. "That's important, particularly for first-generation college students who may not see themselves as able to speak to faculty. Seeing faculty members away from the podium and doing things outside of the classroom increases the level of approachability. It gives students a chance to make those connections that can lead to things such as references and undergraduate research opportunities that a lot of other schools can't offer."

A common bond

Rohli said the concept of residential colleges relates to the earliest forms of universities, where students gathered around a table with a professor. However, as time went on, the focus shifted toward making residence halls less about communal study and more about simply housing students.

"There's no reason you can't have both," he said. "In fact, the large flagship research facilities have the most need for these smaller community programs. I think LSU is very correct in moving toward this model."

The idea of residential colleges at LSU began more than decade ago, when discussions between Residential Life and the LSU Office of Academic Affairs led to Herget Hall being converted to a residential college in 2000. Aimed at helping freshmen adjust from high school to university life, the Herget Residential College is now the largest of the residential college programs on campus, with about 400 students. The remaining residential colleges house about 300 students each.

"It was groundbreaking for several reasons," Waller said of Herget Residential College. "It was our first residential college. It was also our first co-ed residence hall. It ushered LSU into a transition from a developmental approach in residential life to a living-learning approach, and we began to move away from single-gender residence halls."

All of LSU's residential college buildings are co-ed, Waller said, with alternating male and female floors or wings with card-access entry systems.

The Herget Residential College is one of three non-discipline-based residential college programs at LSU. The others are the Information Technology Residential College, opened in 2002, and the Honors House, which is available to all honors students.

The university's six discipline-based residential colleges are each partnered with a specific college to create a like-minded atmosphere for students, Waller said.

"With the discipline-based environments, there's an agreement between the parties where the academic unit handles that aspect, and we handle the co-curricular activities that enhance the program," he said. "Where the academic units have a schedule of goals they want to meet, our programs provide a timely reinforcement of those goals."

The first discipline-based residential colleges opened at LSU in 2007, working with the College of Engineering and E. J. Ourso College of Business. In 2008, the Agriculture Residential College opened, followed in 2009 by the Science Residential College, the Mass Communication Residential College in 2010 and the Global Connections Residential College in 2012.

LSU Family WeekendLSU residential colleges feature an environment of like-minded students and staff, which allows for collaboration in studying and educational activities.
LSU Residential Life

LSU Family WeekendEach residential college at LSU features a faculty member who serves as a rector, offering support both in and out of the classrom.
Jim Zietz/LSU University Relations

LSU Family WeekendStatistics show that students who live in residential colleges at LSU remain at the university for subsequent years.
Jim Zietz/LSU University Relations

LSU Family WeekendLSU Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Stuart Bell visits with students during festivities to welcome those living in the university's Residential College Complex.
LSU Residential Life

LSU Family WeekendLSU has constructed new buildings that house residential college programs, with others housed in existing buildings that have undergone extensive renovations.
LSU Residential Life

LSU Family Weekend Students in LSU residential colleges have access to hands-on activities and programs that are directly related to their chosen majors.
LSU Residential Life

LSU Family WeekendResidential colleges at LSU offer first-year students the educational opportunites of a large univeristy in a small college environment.
LSU Residential Life

Rohli said that the Global Connections Residential College – which is partnered with the College of Humanities & Social Sciences – accepts international students who are visiting LSU, to help enrich the experience of students within that program. It has also facilitated discussions about controversial issues of global concern, which has becoming a major topic of interest in recent years.

While some of the residential colleges are housed within existing residence halls that have undergone extensive renovations in recent years, many are housed within the newer Residential College Complex, which features four buildings – North, South, East and West Halls. The complex features suite-style rooms with community space in the form of lounges, kitchenettes, libraries, courtyards and state-of-the-art classrooms.

As a faculty member working with the program, Rohli said he feels the facilities Residential Life has developed fit perfectly with the goals faculty is trying to accomplish.

"We're developing more study space and more common space," he said. "It's not just the idea of having a building with as many beds as you can fit."

Waller said that Residential Life has a goal of having 60 percent of all residence hall beds at LSU tied to a residential college program by 2020. However, he said, there will continue to be residence halls that are not tied to academic units as well.

"We see the value of the residential college experience, but we also want to be able to offer those students who may not want to do that an option as well," he said.

Home sweet home

With greater academic emphasis and faculty involvement, the residential college atmosphere encourages studying, provides access to exceptional academic and social support, and makes it easy to establish new friendships.

However, since many first-year students will be living away from home for the first time when they attend college, it is important that they still have people nearby who are looking out for their best interests both in and out of the classroom.

To this end, each residential college has a rector – a faculty member that is assigned to oversee that college, working along with residence hall staff.

"The rectors have office hours in the building, and some of them will teach a class or two there," Waller said. "Not only are they in the class with the students, but they're also there in a supportive role and work with the Residence Life Coordinator in the building."

Joni Catanzaro, rector of the Business Residential College, said she enjoys being able to meet and lead the next group of future business leaders.

"From our opening academic convocation at the onset of the fall semester to our end-of-year crawfish boil, the students live and learn together and have tons of fun," said Catanzaro, who is also an instructor and undergraduate advisor in the E. J. Ourso College of Business' Department of Information Systems & Decision Sciences. "It's my job to help the students improve their communication skills, critical thinking skills and sense of community and social responsibility, but it is my pleasure to be their rector, educator and, as some call me, their ‘Cajun Mom.'"

Catanzaro also has a unique view of the Residential Colleges Program, having had her two sons live in residential colleges during their time at LSU.

"When they wanted to come to LSU, I wanted them to have the true college experience and live on campus. They loved it," she said. "When my college was looking for a rector, I immediately signed on. I feel that having the experience of seeing my own children go through the process gave me a lot of insight and confidence about the program and what it offers."

Rohli said that while the Residential Colleges Program can benefit all types of students, he finds students coming in from out of state and from small towns express the most gratitude to LSU for offering the program.

"Being so far away from home, the size of LSU's campus is one of the things that may concern them, even though they recognize the value of an LSU education," he said. "It's a way for them to have the best of both worlds."

One such student is Steven Kushner, a freshman from Detroit who lives in the Business Residential College. He said he took the residential college experience into consideration when choosing LSU.

"For the first couple of weeks I was here, it was definitely a culture shock, but not in a bad way," he said. "Having students around my same age to joke around with helped me to catch on a lot quicker and make friends a lot easier."

Kushner also said that he liked the fact that since most of the students are in the same situation and taking the same classes, it's not awkward meeting neighbors while walking the halls.

"We can study together and help each other out when we have problems," he said. "There's a computer lab that we can use to help with homework. Plus, the residence hall is one of the nicest I've seen in the country, even at bigger universities."

Fellow Business Residential College student Kristina Stein said her favorite aspect of the experience is the friendly environment.

"I feel like I still have my parents here to help me with any struggles I may face," she said. "Everyone is always friendly and so willing to help. Once you come to college, you are thrown into an entirely new environment. You are more independent and all choices are now made by you. This is a big step, and living in a residential college made this transition into college a lot easier."

"Learning to balance your courses, social life, and maintain sleep habits is hard enough. Why not make it easier by becoming part of a support system that wants to see you succeed?" asked Brandi Thomas, also a Business Residential College student. "Even the resident assistant for your hall will be in the same or similar major, so he or she will also be there to offer advice whenever you need it."

Stein said that with all of the opportunities available, she feels there is no reason students living in a residential college should struggle with their first year of higher education.

"I honestly believe that I would not have been so successful my first semester here had it not been for the help I received in the residential college," she said.

Proven success

Waller said that he feels that the academic units offering residential colleges have seen the benefits of the program, which can be used as a useful tool in recruiting and retaining first-year students.

"I think that, across the board, there's an excitement about the residential colleges," he said. "They recognize the advantage of having that connection. I think that there is a buy-in and an understanding of the value, especially when they look at the assessment of what the program can do both internally and externally. It takes a commitment of faculty and resources to do that."

Statistical data also shows that the Residential Colleges Program has also had an impact in retention and graduation rates overall at LSU, as well as in GPA. According to statistics from LSU Residential Life for students that entered LSU in the fall 2010 semester, residential college student retention was at 87.4 percent. Retention for students living on campus in non-residential college units was at 82.9 percent and off-campus residents were at a rate of 79.1 percent. These figures do not include the Honors House.

"Living on campus already increases these rates, but now we see that living on campus in a residential college increases them even more," Waller said.

More specifically, statistics also show higher GPA and retention rates for students living in discipline-based residential colleges, compared to their peers in the same academic college.

"For example, in a recent assessment, we found that students in one residential college have first- and second-year retention rates at 87.3 percent," he said. "Those that are not in the residential college program are at 83.6 percent, so there's a visible difference."

With these statistics as strong evidence of the program's success, Waller encouraged students interested in the Residential Colleges Program to apply as early as possible, so that they may have a better chance of taking part in the experience.

"We typically have waiting lists to get into each of the residential colleges, so that shows that the students are also eager to be a part of it," he said.

For more information on the LSU Residential Colleges Program, including how to apply for future semesters, contact the Residential Colleges Program Office at 225-578-7172 or visit