The Social & Academic Case For Living In A Learning Community

Students in UConn’s Business Connections Living Center

As a freshman business major at the University of Connecticut, Elizabeth Perry has already hobnobbed with the dean of the business school, helped organize a case competition for Target and attended speed-networking events that have helped her forge valuable connections in the business world.  Those types of experiences would have been out of her reach had she not checked off a box on the housing application for UConn’s Business Connections Learning Community back when she was a senior in high school.

“I went out on a limb and signed up for it, and it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made my freshman year,” Perry says. “It made my transition to University of Connecticut so much easier and has given me so many networking connections and the opportunity to grow as a leader. I definitely feel way more connected with the school of business than I originally would have been.”

Business Living Learning Communities like the one at the University of Connecticut have popped up all over the country at undergraduate business programs in recent years, providing freshmen with the opportunity to live with like-minded business students, take classes together and participate in unique events geared specifically toward business students that can give them a jump start on their business careers.

HIGHER GPAS, IMPROVED RETENTION, STRONGER TIES TO BUSINESS SCHOOL

The advantages to living in one of these communities are myriad, coordinators say. Business faculty will frequently visit with students, helping them hone their academic focus early on, and alums are often on hand to help students learn about different career choices. The communities are especially useful tools for undergraduate business programs where students often don’t get to interact with business professors until the end of their sophomore or junior year. They can help freshmen feel a stronger tie to the business school early on in their academic careers, and can even improve retention rates and GPAs, studies have shown.

For example, one study conducted in 2013 at the University of Toledo in Ohio, which has seven living learning communities, including one in business, showed that students at the school who lived in one of the communities their freshman year had a 85.1% retention rate, compared to 67.4% for those who lived in traditional campus housing or other situations. Their GPAs were also higher, by an average of .25 points compared to traditional students, the study showed.

Those types of results don’t surprise Mary Taggart, an academic advisor and retention specialist who coordinates the Business Living Learning Community at the University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business, which is across the street from the business school building.

SPECIAL MIDNIGHT SNACK STUDY SESSIONS

”Retention is a huge issue on college campuses in the nation, so giving students connection and involvement gives them a reason to want to come back their second semester, and even their sophomore year,” she said.

Taggart receives about 200 applications each year for the 50 spots in Walton’s Business Living Learning Community. Students in the community take business law and other classes together, and Taggart organizes special “midnight snack” study sessions for them before exams. She also brings in executives from nearby companies like Walmart and General Mills to talk to students about internships, jobs and career paths at the companies. This spring, they’ll be taking a field trip to Tyson’s headquarters in Springdale, Ark., and later on this year will be doing a service project together as a team.

“We kind of try to force them to be involved so they can see the benefits of being a leader early on,” Taggart said.

‘THERE AREN’T AS MANY BEDS AS THERE IS INTEREST’

Some Business Living Learning Communities, like the one at the University of Connecticut, offer more unusual features, such as exposure to in-depth financial software and the chance to go on international business immersion trips. U Conn’s Business Connections Learning Community has 186 students right now, and will have 230 business students next fall, some of whom are sophomores and get to serve as mentors for freshmen. There’s always a wait list to get into the community, which has become an increasingly popular option for students since it was started in 2010, said Nathan Ives, UConn’s executive director of alumni relations for the business school and the director of the Business Connections Learning Community.

“There aren’t as many beds as there is interest. Students like it because we try to bring them things that aren’t duplicated elsewhere, that are special and that are instrinsically good for them,” Ives said. “It’s like a vitamin. You can’t possibly get any harm from being in the community, it can only help you.”

Students living in the community’s residence hall can relax in a lounge on the ground floor where they can take advantage of free subscriptions to publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review. Across the hall is two Bloomberg Terminals, where students can get certified in the software; about 40 students have gotten certified so far, Ives said. Freshmen in the community take three classes in small clusters together, one of them being a mandatory first-year experience course tailored towards helping business students get a head start on business skills like networking, honing their resumes and effectively using tools like LinkedIn.

FIELD TRIPS TO NEW YORK TO VISIT WITH GOLDMAN SACHS AND DELOITTE

To help the freshmen practice those skills, Ives invites 100 alums to the school in the fall for a speed networking session with students from the community. Business Connection students dress up in business professional clothes for the event, practice their elevator pitches and get to meet with at least four or five alums. “It’s an event meant to give them confidence and is a way for them to test their skills,” Ives said.

Later on in the school year, students get to go on field trips to cities like New York where they visit Goldman Sachs and other accounting firms, he said. During the year, dozens of alums visit the school, talk about their career paths, and often will try to help students hone skills like mock interviewing, Ives said.

The community’s “capstone” experience is an international business immersion trip, where students travel abroad with faculty and visit a variety of multinational companies. This year, 28 students from the community will travel for to Vienna and Budapest in May to visit companies, and the program will include for the first time this year an international case competition, Ives said.