On the day CSULB takes possession of the property that will become the Cal State Long Beach Residential Learning College, crews will be ready to go in and begin renovations. By fall 2009, the 5.04-acre facility formerly known as Brooks College will have undergone improvements exceeding $10 million and will become a unique living and learning environment for up to 550 CSULB students.
The need for additional student housing at CSULB is evident. Existing campus residential halls accommodate a maximum of 1,962 students. For a number of years, wait lists and lotteries for campus housing have been the norm. In fall 2008, the wait list numbered more than 1,000 students. Clearly, demand for student housing at The Beach has never been higher.
"The more opportunities we provide for students to live and learn together, the better their whole collegiate experience will be."
- F. King Alexander
In a recent interview with President King Alexander, the senior editor of In Touch learned that the plans in place for the Cal State Long Beach Residential Learning College will result in far more than just additional student dormitories or residence halls. While plans to construct additional student housing on the main campus of CSULB remain in the university’s master plan, Alexander envisions that the satellite Beach Residential Learning College will become a unique living and learning environment—a college unto itself with its own residence halls, faculty apartments and classrooms—where students from varying disciplines and class levels will have a home where they will live and learn alongside faculty. A regular shuttle service will ensure that students remain connected to the main campus where they will be enrolled in additional courses and involved in other curricular and co-curricular activities.
According to Alexander, this community will foster a sense of group identity, encourage student and faculty interaction and bring faculty and students together in meaningful curricular and co-curricular experiences. “Eventually,” he says, “the Cal State Long Beach Residential Learning College can be expected to have its own government, its own intramural teams, its own loyalties, its own shield and its own colors. The students who live there will know what college they are a part of; they will know they have faculty members who care about their development and they will know that once they’re part of that college, they’ll always be part of that college.”
Alexander’s vision of a residential learning environment is founded on a template established more than 800 years ago at the Sorbonne University of Paris. In the 11th century, students from all over the world congregated in Paris and formed learning communities, which then were based primarily on language and discipline. In the 13th century, residential colleges appeared in England at Oxford University and Cambridge University, where they flourished and expanded to today’s configuration of 39 residential learning colleges at Oxford and 28 at Cambridge. The nine colonial colleges established in the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War were originally designed to reflect many of the same attributes and characteristics found at Oxford and Cambridge.
In recent years, the residential college concept has received considerable attention on many public campuses as a way to address the lack of community and collegiality that has developed over the past four decades. Many universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Murray State University, have quietly created residential colleges or learning communities. Universities that have created these communities have seen improved social and intellectual environments which directly correlate to improvements in students ’ academic performance, retention and overall satisfaction.
“There’s an inherent tendency in America to break up residential colleges by discipline,” Alexander warns. “That’s not the intent. We do enough segregating disciplines. The real value in this is that a student who is a history major goes home at night and he or she lives across the hall and has dinner with an engineering major. All the history majors aren’t clumped together; all the engineering majors aren’t clumped together. This brings people out of their own academic discipline and puts them together in a broader learning context.”
“Not only have I seen the benefits at other institutions, but I was part of a residential college at St. Peter’s College when I was a graduate student at Oxford. This will be much more effective than having some extra places to live down the street,” Alexander says.
“When you have a university of our size, one of the best things you can do is constantly look for ways to create communities. The more opportunities we provide for students to live and learn together, the better their whole collegiate experience will be. That’s what this college is all about.” Alexander envisions that the new Cal State Long Beach Residential Learning College will become one of CSULB’s most popular places. “It will have tremendous value. It fits within the philosophy of what we are trying to do in student affairs and academic affairs and everywhere.”