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Slick Dorm Rooms May Lower Your GPA

Colman Andrews

Among the perks of student life on modern college campuses are the cool apartment-style school housing facilities that sometimes supplant or supplement traditional corridor-style dorms — and not just at America’s richest universities.

These comparatively luxurious facilities, which often feature individual bathrooms, full kitchens, communal living spaces, and laundry rooms, are obviously attractive to students — but a new study suggests that they might also be responsible for lower grade point averages, at least among some first-year students.

The study, “The Hidden Structure: The Influence of Residence Hall Design on Academic Outcomes,” just published in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, examined data from an unnamed private liberal arts college in a Southern state covering a four-year period. The institution was chosen for study because it had recently constructed 30 new apartment-style residence halls but still maintained older dorms as well.

Researchers studied 5,537 first-year students, about 800 of them black, comparing the GPAs of conventional-dorm residents with those of students living in the new units. They found that white students lodged in traditional dorms had a very slightly higher GPA than their peers in the apartment facilities — an average 2.9 versus 2.8 — but that the performance of black students in the old-style units was substantially better. Their average GPA was 2.3, as opposed to 1.9 for apartment-dwellers.

The new-style housing facilities “represent a distinct shift in philosophy from the communally focused corridor style,” according to the report, concentrating instead of “individualism and isolation.” Josh Brown of the University of Virginia, the lead author of the study, noted to the website Inside Higher Ed that the findings may apply only to first- or second-year students as they adapt to college life and expand their social circles, and that older students might benefit from the privacy that the apartment dorms provide.

The study also noted that some critics have identified the construction of lavish new residential buildings as “one of the primary contributors to the dramatic increase in the price of higher education in recent decades.” This may well be a factor for at least some of the U.S. colleges with the biggest tuition hikes.