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For some students, living on campus contributes to their GPA

Colleges generally require freshmen to live on campus in dormitories. The idea is that full immersion in campus life increases students’ chances of academic success. But is it true?

A recent article suggests this is the case – for some students.

The biggest beneficiaries of campus life were incoming freshmen with high school averages or ACT scores that put them in the bottom third of their class, according to the newspaper.

For these students, dormitories reduced the likelihood of them failing or dropping out of school. For example, among students with high school GPAs in the lower tercile, those who lived in a dormitory were about 13% less likely than traveling students to have a first-year GPA of less than 1.5, the threshold university dismissal. Students in this category who lived in dormitories were also almost 9% more likely to return for a second year of school.

“The positive effects of dormitory residency are concentrated among the lowest tercile,” says C. Lockwood Reynolds, associate professor in the College of Business Administration at Kent State University and author of the article. For students in the first two terciles of high school, living in a dorm has no statistically significant effect compared to students who commute in terms of returning for a second year, or with a GPA less than 1.5. For example, Dr Reynolds says that students in the first two terciles who lived in a first year of dormitory were only 1.1% more likely than suburban students to increase their average above 3.3, the threshold of specialized colleges.

The study uses data on nearly 6,000 full-time students in the state between 1997 and 2007 at a large, unnamed Midwestern university that requires freshmen to live on campus unless their home is in a certain distance from the school, in which case they have the possibility of moving from home. The students who chose to commute became, in effect, the control group for the study. Dr Reynolds tested to make sure there was no influence of variables such as postcode and commute times, or social, economic and demographic variables, such as income and parental education . (Previous studies on this topic have compared different schools, making it difficult to account for other variables that contribute to student success.)

Dr. Reynolds suspects that freshmen with lower ACT scores or grades benefit from learning from their peers. By living in a dormitory, energized students learn better study habits by watching or even collaborating with their peers. Living in dorms can also help students learn about academic resources on campus, such as office hours, tutoring services, and study groups, says Dr. Reynolds.

For freshmen taking online classes during the pandemic, Dr Reynolds says he believes a similar dynamic will be at work. He predicts that the best students will be fine, but students on the other end of the spectrum may find it difficult to navigate college online and may be overwhelmed with all the academic and administrative information being passed to them by e- mail, websites or online portals.

“The pandemic,” he said, “is likely to widen the gap between the best and the lowest.”

Ms. Ward is a writer in Winhall, Vermont. She can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

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