331. Not Your Mother’s Dorm Room

Recent trends in dormitory construction have provided students with more private space and less shared space. In this episode, Shelagh McCartney joins us to examine the reasons for this trend and discuss the effect these changes have on student persistence and success.

Shelagh is a licensed architect and urbanist and an Associate Professor and Director of the Together Design Lab at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Toronto Metropolitan University.  She is the co-author with Ximena Rosenvasser of “Not Your Parents’ Dorm Room: Changes in Universities’ Residential Housing Privacy Levels and Impacts on Student Success.”

Show Notes


John: Recent trends in dormitory construction have provided students with more private space and less shared space. In this episode, we examine the reasons for this trend and discuss the effect these changes have on student persistence and success.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Shelagh McCartney. Shelagh is a licensed architect and urbanist and an Associate Professor and Director of the Together Design Lab at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Toronto Metropolitan University. She is the co-author with Ximena Rosenvasser of “Not Your Parents’ Dorm Room: Changes in Universities’ Residential Housing Privacy Levels and Impacts on Student Success.” Welcome, Shelagh.

Shelagh: Thanks so much. I’m really happy to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:… Shelagh, are you drinking tea with us today?

Shelagh: I am drinking tea with you today.

Rebecca: Any special kind?

Shelagh: Earl Grey tea.

Rebecca: That’s a good classic.

John: It is. I am drinking Darjeeling today.

Shelagh: Very nice.

Rebecca: And I have a Scottish afternoon tea.

John: We’re recording in the afternoon. So that works well.

Shelagh: Perfect.

Rebecca: Just barely. [LAUGHTER]

John: We’ve invited you here today to discuss your article on changes in universities’ residential housing and some of the other work you’ve been doing. Before we discuss the study, it might be helpful to discuss how architectural design helps to shape human interactions.

Shelagh: Well, I think when we think about how design in general really shapes who we meet, when we meet, how people interact together, and whether it’s a comfortable interaction or something that happens more often. And I guess in the context of university housing, it begins to be about socialization, friendship, likelihood of creating friendship, and then how that actually translates into academic success, because people that are able to build those broader networks tend to do better in university because they have a better network and resource groups to go to during the ups and downs of university. Intuitively, we sort of associate place where you live with our mood, our familiar bonding, or a refuge for the world, or when we invite over people to share that space with us. And in our researches, we really looked at people such as Altman in the 1970s, who presented theories on how people were experiencing the lived environment. He discussed privacy, socialization, and how people would manage their environment to either connect with others or isolate themselves from others. And to do so, people resort to what he referred to as environmental mechanisms or behavioral mechanisms. So an environmental mechanism would be to close the door, And a behavioral mechanism would be someone to ask to leave the room like to say to someone, “Can you please leave me alone, I need to go and do my studying that I need to do.” And so some of the other research when we think also of linking these pieces together, and with architecture, it’s complicated, because we’re looking at other disciplines. And so when we think about Altman, and then we reach deeper into psychology of lived spaces with can think of Festinger, Schacter, and Back in the 1950s, unplanned meetings or chance encounters that discussed the influence that the built environment has the ability to sort of facilitate social interactions, friendships to come together, and more times we meet with people of similar interests, the higher chances are that we’re going to have a better connection with them, or friendships to arise. And of course, the strong interpersonal connections also affect our well being. So for students that’s reflected in how well they perform academically and their satisfaction with the university as a whole in terms of our experience. So these works I’ve really talked a lot about, the 1950s, the 1970s, and that’s really where a lot of this work came from. And I will say that we became concerned when we began to see sort of a shifting trend of what we were hearing in the types of lived environments, and that historically, university residence has been linked to having stronger academic outputs. But if the built environment begins to change, then maybe that wouldn’t be the same. And so that was sort of a rise from concern about five years ago. And then thinking about how we could actually look at a study and build a study around this to look at the changes we were seeing. And so in our initial work, we discussed student life and how we were studying university. So in my case, my first experience at university was living with a roommate in a shared bedroom, and sharing a common space such as a bathroom and a lounge. I like to joke that I could have held hands while lying in bed with my roommate, our beds were that close together. [LAUGHTER] And we had common dining with the whole building, but activities such as meeting in the hallways, or leaving the door open for people to come in and be able to hang out and remembering the sort of feelings also associated with that, to create friendships and networks. But students today have a completely different university experience. They’re offered a wide type of living units, apartments, larger super suites. So we’ve sort of set to investigate how these new living units are affecting students.

Rebecca: You’ve hinted at some of the changes that have occurred more recently. Can you talk about some of the changes that have happened over the last couple of decades and maybe why some of that change has actually occurred?

Shelagh: So when we think about the changes that have happened the last 20 or 30 years, I think it’s really important that there is a sort of inflection point, that after World War II student housing completely change with the rising rapid enrollment, especially by military veterans, and encouraged by sort of the state to receive university education and to be able to begin their lives after the war. And so we really see the rise at that point in time to change the kind of living environment. So the role of universities in providing housing for students also shifted. And we see that shift post-World War II. And then we are beginning to see that shift in the 1990s as well. So at that time, when we think about what was happening after World War Two, it was decided that universities and government would take that role of building fast, high-density residences with common dining spaces, in our case across Canada, but it did happen the U.S. as well, to meet that demand for student housing. And the design of these dormitories were called barrack buildings, which when we think about post-World War II, that begins to make sense, due to the similarity with military barracks. At that time, it was considered that veterans would not complain about simple features and amenities of these accommodations. And it was a successful experience, housing the majority of the student population on campus housing. And this is today what we think of as being what we call traditional residences, this sort of shared bathrooms, common dining room experience, many times single, double, triple, or quad rooms, and how many people that they were actually housing within those spaces. So that’s what we think of when we’re thinking about the traditional mothers’ dorm room. Then the other inflection point that I spoke about was in the 1990s, that this custodial role that universities had for university housing was really put to the test. Universities were systematically defunded, with their financing mainly coming from enrollment numbers. And at this time, government funding for infrastructure decreased considerably. This is why we’re seeing higher incomes of international student enrollments as well as universities using the unregulated tuition fees of international students to finance themselves. I’m speaking from the Canadian context, most of our universities in Canada… I’m saying most, but I want to say all… are public institutions, so we don’t have this similar division. So a lot of the funding comes through universities from the governments themselves. And this funding model had a radical shift on what happened in terms of thinking about the housing. So consequently, enrollment numbers continued to grow, but there wasn’t the facilities necessarily to put into place. And so what we’re seeing now is that private developers are associated with universities began building on campus residence to meet this demand. And so later on, especially in the last 10 years, we’re really seeing that the private developers are taking the lead in building student housing mostly in off-campus developments. And the new units are no longer responding to universities’ housing models, but they would try to cater to what I’m going to say is like students’ preferences. And I want to be clear that these are student preferences and parent preferences prior to the student entering university, I think there’s a significant discussion around what are students’ actual preferences, and what are the perceived preferences before they come in. So what we’re seeing how the new units are being structured, they’re allocating more facilities into private spaces, they’re starting to provide more private bedrooms, but also private bathrooms, also private lounges, also private kitchens, and private developers would also build multiple apartments. So in the last 10 years, private developers in some association with universities are building mostly single and double apartments, which means it’s sort of almost like a… we would say, in Toronto… a mini condo, but that would be a single bedroom, with a lounge, a kitchen, a bathroom, all within your own unit. Some of them are multiple apartments, would be separate bedrooms with those other shared facilities. And then also beginning to think about that they could be building single and double suites. What that is, it’s a private or semi-private bedroom, lounge and bathroom, but more of a communal kitchen that’s outside of the unit. And so in Toronto, in the last 10 years, there have not been any more traditional units built or our parents’ dorm rooms built at all. And so when we think about that shift of what’s been associated with a on-campus experience, that that’s not occurring. So although the total number of these high-privacy units in Toronto right now is small and doesn’t represent a majority of where students live, they are representing what is being constructed today, and what is on most of the horizon moving forward. And that’s really why we were concerned and that we are trying to put the research behind that to say, to think about the student experience and how to advise consulting firms and to encourage universities to actually think of the housing experience as part of the university experience, not as something that they put to the side that someone else handles. This isn’t just heads and beds. This is part of the university experience. And also it is directly tied into how people feel about their university experience as in would they recommend someone going to that university is based primarily a lot on their housing experience.

John: Why has there been this shift in the perceived preferences of students? Is it due to rising incomes, so that it’s easier for students and their families to afford more expensive housing because the barracks-style housing would be relatively less expensive than the private suites and so forth? Or might it be partly due to perhaps a decline in fertility rates so that family sizes are smaller and students coming into our colleges are less likely to have had prior experience sharing a room with a sibling, for example.

Shelagh: I can’t speak directly to fertility rates and how the relationship of that does come together. I wouldn’t say that fertility rates have declined so much lately that there has been a changed experience. When we look at occupancy, the occupancy of the average people per household has remained relatively the same in the last 20 or 30 years. But I would say probably in the 60s and 70s, it could have been different, at least here. We’ve had a large immigrant population that’s come to Canada in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It continues today, and a lot of people want the best for their kids. They’d worked hard to secure a future to have the best for their children. And most of these more luxury places cost more. So this is the cost for this traditional room, and this is the cost for this other one that is more expensive to build, more expensive to run. And so there is a notion of attaching the luxury piece to it. So when we think of society as this trend, particularly in Western cultures, there is a tendency towards larger private spaces. When we think of the size of homes, of how they’ve grown as compared to post-World War II student housing, we begin to think about the two major trends that started in the 1990s in student housing, was first the involvement of private developers that imitate rental types of other units, and cater them to students, such as single units or apartments shared with only one or two people. And in the sense that developers are building something that they can easily redirect to another public if needed. I think that this is actually quite an important piece, is the financing behind it. And the flexibility of a developer that is not a university, and may actually want to pivot if the student housing market isn’t the new asset class that people are relying on so much in terms of having their returns, and could pivot actually to rent it within the normal housing market. It’d be more difficult to do that with a traditional or barracks style room. And so the second is also the commodification of the student experience and emphasis on student preferences. So there’s a lack of research for a long time on student housing that actively involved universities and developers to seek students’ wellbeing. It was more thinking about “what is the preferences,” it was very much driven by parents entering university, children entering university rather than actually students there. So in one of our subsequent studies, we actually took students and said, “Okay, these are the options, these are your preferences, and we gave them all the money in the world.” And so we did like a mock game on this and then we constrained them, and what amount of money they had to spend, and we were able to actually prioritize themn And so to me, that’s a contribution that we’ve made, because there’s one thing to say, what would you like. I’d like a pony. I’d like a unicorn, I’d love a great car, maybe a different type of house, but I may not be thinking about how I’m going to pay for that. What are my actual priorities? So by constraining the students, we push the dial a little bit to say, “Okay, what do you want?” And one of the main things that came back was affordability, they may have a preference for all these things that people say what they want, but when they’re asked to actually balance it, people actually chose differently, quite differently based on what their preferences were. And these were existing students. And I also think, within the barracks style, is that we’re not advocating that everything be built traditional, because there is different personalities out there that succeed differently, and better in different types of housing. But we just want to make sure that the new kind of housing isn’t all that’s being constructed, and that people that may have felt crowded in the quadruple rooms on barracks style housing, and a lot of studies are that way, they compare quadruple rooms, traditional rooms, with single apartments. And there’s so much of a spectrum in between there that I think really comes out in our work. And we’ve tried to allow people to access that, to be able to compare the spectrum, the pieces in between within that. A lot of the research was comparing severely crowded ways of being that people couldn’t have any kind of privacy to something that was very, very, very, very, very private, and then therefore saying that this other thing was bad. And so when we think about this commodification that’s happened, that there is a lack of research of students being actively engaged within that. And that’s true that there is some expectations of recreating what is offered in the familial home. So Kaplan stated that if students are used to sharing a bedroom in their own homes, directly thinking what you mentioned, John, than there also be more comfortable at university doing that. And the cultural differences, I think, is also what applies. We’re beginning to see that and Heilweil identified it as well, that there’s some cultures and subcultures that are more comfortable and want to share their space and their belongings. Even if they have the money to be able to rent the more private unit, they actually prefer to live with someone in more close proximity to them. So when we think about how these changes have affected cost and affordability, this is what also really tips the scales to us when we think about the stress. It’s virtually inaccessible and unaffordable to live close by to universities for a majority of reasons. So nowadays in Toronto, about 70% of the students remain in the familial home, because universities don’t have enough residences, or people can’t afford to live within them because of the lack of affordable housing that’s available. And for developers, this is a perfect storm of having low vacancy and high prices close to universities, that encouraged them to focus it on these luxury products that they could flip into condos and don’t satisfy the needs of the majority of the student population as well. But we’re seeing a change in the discourse of talking to developers who are now showing interest in changing the strategies we’re putting forward thus far in the city itself. And I think that that’s one thing that’s quite interesting in the Toronto context is that the developers that are working here tend to be smaller, almost family-oriented developers. And so you’re literally talking to the person that’s making some of the main decisions, and that it is a family enterprise. And so in some of our grants moving forward, we have actually applied to do some of this work with developers to move the conversation along in this context, and then sharing it more broadly, because the Canadian population isn’t so dissimilar to the rest of the populations in North America as well. So although I can’t sort of speak to fertility rates, I think that we’ve seen a growth in the size of bedrooms since the 1940s, across the countries, across North America, and that is being emulated in the student homes, and the student residences that people are seeking.

Rebecca: You mentioned earlier a difference between perceived wants in housing prior to starting university, and then you implied that there might be a change once they’re here. Can you talk a little bit about that potential shift that happens.

Shelagh: So I think what we’ve seen is that there is a lot of desire to emulate the familial home, and not want to share anything. I don’t know anybody. I want to have my own bathroom. I want to have my own bedroom. I want to be able to cook. I want to have the most flexibility that I can. And what we’re actually seeing is that when we work with students that are actually students, and they’ve had some university experience already, that there’s more of a desire to share. They are putting more weight on the networks and the importance of the networks because people forget that they are sharing those things if they’re living within a family environment, there is another adult there that they’re sharing with, there may be other siblings that they’re sharing with. And so they’re getting those different interactions. And now when you take a student and put them in their own apartment by themselves, and there isn’t a need to go out, that they forget that they’re not actually seeing anybody in those chance encounters that are moving forward. And Ximena and I, in our latest piece of research with Yemi Adediji, we’ve looked at it really quantifiably. We have 11 years of research, 11 years of administrative documentation across all of the universities in Toronto. And we were able to actually classify them by room and being able to see how successful that they’re being. And in speaking to the students as well, we have another article that is published called Affordability is King. Affordability is King is that people really want to be able to have one space that’s private. And so we would probably, similar to as John said, that a barracks building is easier and cheaper to build. And we could actually drive this as affordability. We would be advocating for small individual rooms, that people could be able to have one space where they can feel private, and yet the rest of the spaces where they are going to be able to have different chance encounters. And interestingly, a lot of it hinges on the bathroom. And we think that that’s because one has to go to the bathroom more times than they eat. And also, if you’re in a shared space, brushing your teeth near somebody, that is a bit more of an intimate experience, and therefore you’re more likely to engage with each other in the dining room. Whereas we are seeing the research of bedrooms that have bathrooms within the unit, that their grades are substantially impacted negatively. I know that’s not in the current one. But the swings are substantial. They’re nine grade points out of 100.

John: That’s really interesting. I’m a little surprised by that, but that is one sort of shared space that everyone has to use. A lounge, for example, might not always be used, it could be empty much of the time, and in fact, in many dorms, they have been, but the bathrooms would get a lot of visitors often at the same times of the day.

Shelagh: So I think it’s also sort of this balance between those spaces that are designed for socialization and there’s places that are designed for privacy. But we speak a lot about balanced privacy. And one of the current pieces that we’re working on is: “what does that actually mean?” And using tools that we’ve developed to allow people to say, “Well, what is the privacy that I’m looking at within here? How can I begin to put that on a scale to understand how those are connected to each other?” And then again, with a large quantifiable study, it’s 28,000 students in that time period, so a substantial dataset to be working with. So some of the results have been surprising. And then to really begin to think about what that means for the design of spaces. If we were to give people advice as to what they should be investing in in terms of so social spaces. Designing a really great social bathroom could be one of them. And I reflected on my university experiences, sometimes the getting ready to go out was more fun than the actual going out.

John: One of the things you did was design an instrument called the hierarchy of isolation and privacy in architecture to help describe some of those changes. Could you describe what this index captures?

Shelagh: Well, it begins to look at the different spaces within the unit, and then to think about how many people you’re interacting with within that space. And so there’s a significant difference between single bedrooms, double bedrooms, and three and four bedrooms. And so we looked at each of the spaces and to say, really following Altman to think about primary and secondary territories. Are you by yourself? Are you sharing them with one person? Are you sharing them with a small group? And then to allow that to guide more of the discussions, again, because there is this real weights of the opposite ends of the spectrums, and we were trying to communicate that there’s much more nuance to this. And so we actually use the HIPAT tool in some of the new work that we’re just getting to journals now, to really look at all of the different units just to say, “Well, what does balanced privacy actually look like?” We gave a tool to actually be able to talk about it and measure it. And we were seeing in the literature, a lot of psychologists and people saying, “This is what we’re observing, but we don’t know how to analyze the built environment.” And so we’re hoping that it would be a tool that would allow many other disciplines to interact with architecture in a way that is more organized and they can begin to speak to each other around this tool. I think that that’s a common thing within our research together, we’re always looking for ways to bring the disciplines together, because so many people can speak about the built environment. But it’s a real shame that if you can have a great psychologist or sociologist that’s looking at a piece, and then just says, “Well, I can’t analyze the built space.” This is a tool to allow them to be able to engage in that.

John: And we should note that citations for all the studies that have been mentioned will be included in the show notes. And when they are publicly available, we’ll include a link to them as well, just so our listeners know that they can find more resources about this as a follow up.

Shelagh: Well, thank you. And I know that in the HIPAT tool that we also developed and built on the housing classification, again, many of the housing classifications are organized in how a developer thinks about constructing a space like “does the space have a kitchen?” “does the space have a bathroom?” and so they were comparing apartments to traditional but again, if there’s four people living in apartment that’s completely different if there’s one person living in an apartment, and so the HUC tool, or the housing unit classification system, was designed to tease that apart and we’re finding a lot of people in co-op housing, co-housing are beginning to talk to us or citations of using this as a more organized way to describe housing in other situations as well. So it’s not designed only for student housing, there’s many other ways that it can be used in terms of innovative people sharing space.

John: In general, in the design of academic buildings, at least on our campus and many campuses in the US, there’s been a shift to create more spaces for students to interact. But it sounds like the trend in dormitory housing, where students spend a fair amount of time, has been in the opposite direction. And there’s been a lot of research in the last few years about the importance of connections and networks and so forth in terms of student success and retention and wellbeing. How have these two things diverged in that way? Why has the architecture of dorms gone in a very different direction than architectural trends in the design of academic spaces.

Shelagh: Well, I think that, particularly in the States, the housing, through the provision of different amenities has been used as a way to attract students to the campus. The housing experience in Canadian universities is not radically different. And because we have a different donor funding structure, I think that that’s why we’re seeing a lot more of the amenities that are available in US residences, we’re really seeing that change in terms of attracting students, in terms of the amenities. And so I think we’re seeing the mirroring more pronounced, let’s put it that way, the mirroring of the familial home. And again, this notion of “I’ve worked so hard to get to this place, and I want to put my kids through the university.” I will say, our parents’ generation, or my parents’ generation, did not attend university the same kind of way. And that generation is shifting now. The people that are starting to send their kids to university went themselves, which when we think about that article that says “Not my Mother’s Dorm Room,“ my mother hadn’t gone to university. So they were doing what everyone else did. We were seeing through the 80s and the 90s is that generation pushing for the best for their kid. I’ve worked so hard, and I didn’t go to university, but I want the best for my kid going to university. And now what we’re beginning to see is people say affordability is more important. I went to university. I lived in that environment. There’s no way, kid, I’m paying for a luxury place for you to be. So we may actually begin to see a shift. But I do think that the REIT and development and financing structure has a very large impact on how the units come together. And so within that, if the developer can build a type of housing environment that could be flipped to be thought of as being single apartments, or double apartments, even, then the banks feel more comfortable lending money to them. And we don’t have as developed a REIT structure. And so they feel more comfortable lending to them. I’ve had developers say to me, I wanted to do that. But we’re talking about five point difference that I was getting offered rates of 2, 3%, as compared to 6, 7. That’s a drastic change in my financing model, I think in universities as well, that the custodial role of the different universities is changing. And again, a lot of the discussions have been give it away, University’s job is not actually to house students, to not to be the parent. But that was always the historical role, the custodial role of them. And so when we think about it, like coming back with the emulation of wanting to be in the parents home, combined with not necessarily enough understanding, for us, we began to be concerned. And when we looked at the literature, people hadn’t touched this topic as much since the 70s. More of it’s coming out now, and a lot of it was based on academic spaces, but within the housing, that it was really, again, looking at these two opposites. And so we wanted to develop more tools around that, and not based on our tools, but there is more interest in looking at this. And I think, as the universities begin to think about what is the financial situation that they’re in, how they will begin to progress on that, but residences, I know in the States, more than Canada, have been used as a vehicle to be able to attract students as sort of the having these great, amazing environments. I think if you said to a Canadian parent, like there’s a lazy river in the residence, people would think that that was not something that they would ever think would be there. Whereas I think the amenities that are available and some of the residences, that they’re pretty luxurious and pretty fun and that’s a huge attraction.

Rebecca: What are some of the consequences of not really paying attention to our residence hall development and not really thinking about these academic implications, or some of the social implications? What are the long term effects of some of these decisions?

Shelagh: We think ultimately, people will not have the same positive university experience, the benefits that you typically see out of living on campus won’t be there. Students become more dissatisfied with their university experience and don’t necessarily want to attend. And I think this is something we’re trying to outline in the literature that it starts to become also an equity discussion. Like he who has the money to be able to afford said residence and actually even be able to live in a university residence. Myself, Ximena with Kiana Basiri and Cynthia Holmes, we’ve recently completed a study that we’re putting in for publication, it is in the revise and resubmit piece right now. But it is looking at the implication of, again, GPA, we have about 750,000 students that we’re looking at and looking at them longitudinally. People that live in residence graduate more often, people that live in residence have a significantly higher GPA, on average, and then myself, Ximena and Yemi, we looked at well, when we break that down by unit type, what does that mean? I sort of alluded to the fact that it’s substantial between the differences. But the differences, as I said, between single apartments and this ideal single room on a traditional floor, where you’re sharing a bathroom, having a different dining experience, a 9-point difference is the difference between an A-minus and a B-minus. So the GPA will get lower, and you’ll sometimes see people that won’t be able to pursue university education. I do think one of the largest concern now is affordability. John, you stole my moment. But you advocated for the fact that it’s cheaper to build. We’re actually saying, build single rooms, sharing all of these amenities together, and pay attention to the fact that they are places where you have to go, that it isn’t just the lounge, thinking about the hallway spaces and the bathrooms, places that you need to go and where you will be interacting with people. So, i.e., these bathrooms are not single stalls with doors along a wall that you go into and experience completely separately, that there is a place where there is interaction. But the long-term effects is the fact in many of these areas, if you don’t build the right kind of residences, we’re literally seeing the ability for a poor student to succeed, that they will likely fail and will not continue in the university. But around the affordability question is that if universities aren’t paying attention to the curriculum of housing that you are going to create an inequity in the system. He who can pay to live close to the university is going to do significantly better than he who can’t. They’re then more likely to go into graduate studies as well. And they’re also probably going to only going to socialize with their own socio-economic group. And then you begin to see divisions on campus socially. And if areas of housing is not affordable, then when we think about the meritocracy that we sort of say hard work and brains, then you can succeed. We’re beginning to divide society. I mean, that’s the big doom and gloom piece, but it is one of the pieces sort of lit are concerns, just to say this is a a type of experience that leads to success. And if we’re not paying attention to the type of units that we’re building, there may be a lot of investment and we’re not going to get the results we think we’re going to get from them. And from that, some universities, if they don’t have housing available or don’t build great housing, or housing that really builds their campus, they may see people begin to not to want to go to university there. In Toronto, for instance, as with this unaffordable housing economy, you can begin to see the impacts on the success of the city, because you’re not attracting top minds. I have lots of people that reach out to me now saying, “Well, what would faculty housing look like?” Because we’re beginning to see land values go up typically by 1% by kilometer that you get closer to a university. So talking about affordable housing beside a university is kind of a paradox to that unless the university takes a role in that. So you begin to see his brain drain of talent away from the university, and thus away from a city.

John: Are there any other observations you’d like to share with our listeners?

Shelagh: When we’re thinking about these academic spaces, there’s a push generally towards more space. I would add that design is really important in these spaces. It’s not lost on me that the type of units that we are advocating for are the ones that are in the classic dormzilla Munger building on the west coast that has been very highlighted, let’s say, in discussions around university housing. But within that, it’s not just about the unit, the unit is important, but things like light are important. And it’s not just about lounge space, it’s about good lounge space, and really considering what are the interactions that people will have. And so new residences offer a wide range of social spaces that are not offered in traditional residences. And so in our studies, we investigate students’ daily activities, and if those activities correlate with a fixed space or not. So it’s not only a matter of students meeting informally, or in an unplanned way, but the familiarity with strangers that later become acquaintances, and hopefully friends, I think, is really important. And then our latest research, we found a very particular connection between dining spaces and GPA. And dining spaces, as they become more flexible in the terms of universities, allowing students as meals all across campus, we actually see a negative correlation because student interaction diminishes of meeting up with the same people, and so does GPA. And again, I was expecting smaller point percentages, you know, maybe the difference between a B and a B+. But again, within these, we’re seeing quite significant gaps within that. And so for us, it has led us to investigate more different pieces on top of it.

Rebecca: Well, we always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”:

Shelagh: For student housing, within that I would say hopefully more and better. So which coincidently is more affordable for students, as well as what we are advocating for: single rooms with a lot of shared spaces are cheaper to build, they’re easier to maintain, easier to manage.=, typically. Our research shows that if properly managed, going back to our parents’ dorm rooms, or traditional residences is the right way to go. Of course, we do not advocate to dismiss the diversity of the student population and their needs. But for majority of the student body, which is where my perspective is coming from, I’m not talking necessarily about people with different abilities, or neurodiversity. But for the average student, we found the traditional rooms seemed to be the answer. And that for our research group working with universities and developers, what’s next is we’re going to be looking to shape the future of housing together to focus on students’ wellbeing, trying to bring the conversation around to a student-centric approach rather than only an internal rate of return approach. And that we’re in the process of publishing some new findings that I’ve mentioned today, and taking the work to more specific groups. We’re going to be looking at international students. So I’ll wrap up by saying that in this new work that we’re looking at, we found comparing socializing residences, single apartments, as I said on campus, was that people that lived in single apartments are the most expensive and luxurious ones on campus perform nine points worse, single modified traditional rooms, which is a room with a bathroom inside of it, they actually perform three points worse. As soon as you take that bathroom and put it in, they’re not performing with it as well. But if you did not want to have a single room only, students that live in multiple apartments where they are sharing with a group of four or five students, an apartment environment, although they perform worse than ones in traditional rooms, that is sort of the next-best group again, because of those social interactions that they’re having. Interestingly, we were surprised by this result, that single modified traditional were sort of three-points rooms, but as soon as you had a friend in your room with you, that then I guess, encouraged social interaction, that they only performed a little bit worse than the single room. We would generally advocate for small private bedrooms, but would allow for students to have a place that they can be quiet in, but that if they wanted to have more space that they would be encouraged to go out into their environment to interact with.

Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for sharing your really interesting research. As a designer, I find all this super fascinating.

John: Thank you, and it’s really nice to see some studies of these types of things rather than decisions being made based on perceived student preferences, which may not always align with what students will choose when faced with the cost, or when institutions are aware of what some of the implications are in terms of student retention and student success. So it’s nice to see this research being done.

Shelagh: Well, thanks so much for having me, John and Rebecca. I know, as a architect and a planner, I’m always looking for the data and how it can influence design. And speaking recently, at a conference, there were a number of architects that came up to me afterwards and said, “You must have seen so many residents” and I was like, “happy to have a lunch and learn,” we really want to do applied research, and just sort of see what is something that is concerning to us, and then be able to see if we can actually put a framework classification, allow people to investigate into this further. So maybe someone listening to this will also feel better about how they will be housing their student as they move into university. But then also, if there’s other researchers that are listening to this to say, maybe there’s an interdisciplinary way that they can come together with the tools that we’ve done, to be able to think about increasing the conversation into many other fields. Thank you so much for having me.

John: Thank you.

Rebecca: Thank you so much.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

Ganesh: Editing assistance by Ganesh.