Michigan State University wants to ensure every student has the opportunity to learn, thrive and graduate.
Over the past 10 years, the university has invested in student success initiatives to support undergraduates in their pursuit of a college education. A campus-wide campaign encouraging students to take 15 credits or more each semester, the nationally recognized Neighborhood(s) model, and increased access to academic resources, have contributed to a higher graduation rate among Spartans — rising from 77% to 81% over the last five years.
For several years, university administrators have examined the student success outcomes of on- and off-campus living for undergraduate students. Descriptive analysis conducted by MSU’s Office of Institutional Research shows that undergraduates who live on campus for their first two years at MSU have graduation rates about 2.5 percentage points higher than their peers who live on campus only their first year. The difference in graduation rates between students who live on or off in their second year is larger for students from some underserved groups, almost 10 percentage points.
This data leads university administrators to believe the reinstatement of a required second year on campus is the best next step toward ensuring students persist and graduate. Currently, first-year students are required to live on campus their first academic year. Beginning with students who start at MSU in fall 2021, the on-campus living requirement will be extended to include a second year, reinstating the two-year live-on requirement that MSU had waived since the 1980s.
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we, as an institution, act in ways that support our students and their success at Michigan State,” says Vennie Gore, senior vice president for Auxiliary Enterprises. “Reinstating the second-year live-on requirement will help us better equip our students with the tools they need, while in a supportive and safe environment, to help them succeed.”
The first two years of college are critical for students’ momentum and living on campus provides them with greater access to resources and activities that correlate with their academic success. This access supports students in graduating more quickly, keeping the cost of their degree lower (e.g., less student loan debt, fewer living expenses).
“We continue to work closely with academic partners on bringing living-learning communities and classes into the halls, as well as with campus partners to bring diverse, quality educational opportunities into our spaces,” says Ray Gasser, executive director of Residence Education and Housing Services who also has a doctorate in higher education administration. “I look forward to refining and expanding our efforts with first- and second-year students to support their Spartan success.”
Programs such as Spartan Compass, which focuses on the first-year experience, and Spartan Navigator which focuses on the second-year experience, were developed to provide a framework for students during their first two years of college. The launch of Spartan Navigator was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our partners in REHS have created a robust educational experience and provided exceptional resources in their spaces for students in their sophomore year,” Mark Largent, associate provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies says. “We look forward to working with them on this new policy because we know it will help students succeed.”
The second-year living requirement that currently exists at MSU can be found in the Housing Requirements and Procedures section of the Spartan Life Student Handbook. However, it has not been enforced since the early 1980s, when former MSU President Cecil Mackey informed the MSU Board of Trustees the administration would continue waiving the second-year live-on requirement for students — a waiver that had been implemented when university enrollment was at its peak.
The Second-Year Student Experience
Over the past several years, MSU has seen a decrease in the number of students choosing to live on campus their second year (55% in 2011 versus 45% of second-year students in 2017). Additionally, a study that looked at second-year students between 2013 and 2016 found 60 fewer students from each class persisted when they moved off campus their second year.
Second-year students can also experience what is often referred to as a “sophomore slump,” which is associated with feelings of uncertainty and dissatisfaction. This can be attributed to fewer support services and programs tailored to second-year students compared to their first-year experience. Many second-year students also begin to question their choice of major and overall reason for being in college.
To address some of these issues, REHS began building Spartan Navigator, a program specifically for second-year students. Some intended outcomes of the program include students’ enhanced sense of purpose and academic engagement, and advanced knowledge related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Another program, the Residential Learning Model, was created to assist residential staff in strategically facilitating growth and learning for those living on campus, thus enhancing the living-learning relationship.
“It is important to student development that learning continues outside of their classes,” Gasser says. “The Residential Learning Model, and first- and second-year experience programs we have developed give us a defined, consistent way to connect our residents beyond the classroom.”
Dining on campus can also foster a sense of belonging among students. RHS Culinary Services strives to support students and their academic success by creating dining communities and offering a variety of dining options to help them stay on track throughout their college career.
“Living on campus connects students to university support and programs,” says Rebecca Selesky, executive director for Culinary Services. “Dining is a big part of that connection and Culinary Services is committed to providing students safe spaces to dine, study and socialize so that they are positioned for academic success and supported in their health and well-being.”
The second-year live-on requirement will begin with the first-year entering class of fall 2021, who would then live on campus for a second academic year beginning fall 2022. Existing residence hall residents and the first-year incoming class of fall 2020 are exempt. Students who transfer to MSU will continue to be required to live on campus unless they meet the exception criteria.
MSU’s occupancy capacity is 18,203, which accounts for all residence hall room types and apartments. It’s estimated the number of first- and second-year students living on campus would be roughly 16,000.
Exception criteria for second-year students is being finalized, along with the request process. Existing criteria for first-year students includes married students, students with dependents, veterans with one or more years of active service, students who will be 20 years old by the first day of classes of fall semester of the current academic year, students living with parent or guardian within 40 miles of campus, and students taking six or fewer semester credits and who live locally.