- Student Learning in College Residence Halls: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why by Gregory S. Blimling
Gregory S. Blimling
San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015, 416 pages, $42.00 (hardcover, e-book)
Student Learning in College Residence Halls: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why focuses on the experiences of traditional aged (18– 24 years old) college students living in US residence halls, specifically regarding educational outcomes and advancing learning through intentional aspects that create an environment of success. The author, Gregory S. Blimling, is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. He served more than 40 years in various student affairs roles in different institutions, all of which had oversight for some dimension of the residential experience. Based on his experience and research inquiries, Blimling proposes numerous models informed by well-known theories and research to support his recommendations. He provides the most recent in-depth overview on the collegiate campus housing experience for residential students in the U.S. The author’s work is like a treasure chest of knowledge sources for practitioners, higher education faculty members, and upper-level administrators who want to learn all aspects of how intentionality plays a role in creating the optimal collegiate residential experience. In 10 chapters, Blimling provides a myriad of topics that “open the door” and allow readers full knowledge of what one experiences inside campus residences.
Blimling’s approach of asking questions, and then providing the latest research findings, enables readers to apply theory to practice. The introductory chapter provides a historical perspective on how US institutions of higher learning moved away from the heavy influences of European models; a new model emerged after much contemplation and debate by college presidents, and allowed for a vision of the residential experience to educate students.
The next topic of inquiry offers perspectives on the adolescent developmental issues and challenges inherent in transitioning to a new environment with independence to make personal choices centered on the availability of alcohol and risk taking behaviors, sexual freedoms, nutrition, and sleeping. The author utilizes Gardner’s forms of intelligence to respond to life’s problems. The chapter also captures the author’s personal knowledge and research on how students learn through socially engineered communities to enhance learning. This is one of the more robust and well-cited topics in the text. Examples of the specialized housing offerings and their impact include the development of living and learning centers, the mixed results of theme housing, and the dying cooperative housing models that started in the 1960s and 1970s. Although the data are compelling, the author did not emphasize that institutional complexity, differing physical structures, campus financial commitments, and staffing models that make the application from one campus to another almost impossible to replicate.
Similar to many best-selling business leadership books, such as Good to Great (Collins, 2001), having the “right people on the bus” will enhance the overall experience [End Page 226] college students have in a residence hall (e.g., faculty, resident assistants [RAs], and resident hall directors). The author provides in-depth, data-proven practices to enhance hiring, training and competency models, and staff development offerings to best equip staff to be successful in their roles as educators for residential students. The chapter illustrates the author’s decades long inquiry into staffing (Blimling & Schuh, 1981), especially the RA position. There may not be another researcher more committed to this inquiry than Blimling, and it is evident by the depth of data provided.
Many readers will find that the tables and figures in the book (e.g., influence of placement type, educational competencies for staff, and curriculum planning models) are exceedingly valuable for comparing and contrasting the varied manners in which a particular process or learning dimension can work best on their campus. It also provides tools for assessment and strategic planning. I found the book provides understandable models, examples, strategies, and best practices for building community and shaping residential environments that can produce measureable learning outcomes. What makes the book so helpful is that the author himself not only...