National Study of Living Learning Programs


Crafting Successful Living-Learning Programs for Women in STEM: Building Blocks for the Future

Gender Inequality in STEM The Numbers

The issue of women’s under-representation in STEM fields has attracted the attention of higher education scholars and practitioners for several decades. Some colleges and universities have responded to the many challenges identified in the literature by instituting programs and practices with the purpose of making their campuses more welcoming to women in STEM Hathaway, Sharp, & Davis, 2001; Kahveci, Southerland, & Gilmer, 2008; Rosser, 1997; Seymour, 2002.

However, despite significant gains in recent years, persistent gender inequalities remain. For example, female first-year students continue to be less likely than men to express an interest in choosing a STEM major and are underrepresented in a number of STEM fields.

Undergraduate degrees by gender: Engineering and Computer Science, 2010
Undergraduate degrees by gender: Mathematics and Physical Sciences, 2010
Graduate degrees by gender, 2005

Gender Inequality in STEM Possible Reasons

The literature points to a variety of sources in explaining these inequalities, such as psychological factors, socialization, and inadequacies in the K-12 and college preparation of women Astin & Sax, 1996; Bean & Eaton, 2000; Lee, 2002; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Vogt, Hocevar, & Hagedorn, 2007; Zeldin & Pajares, 2000. However, the question of higher education’s role in making the educational climate less chilly for women is especially important to consider. Increasingly, one program colleges and universities are using to facilitate the success of women in STEM is the living-learning program.

Gender Inequality in STEM A Solution – The Living/Learning Program

Living-learning (L/L) programs are some of the most popular innovations in higher education today. The cornerstone of most L/L programs is the purposeful blending of students’ in- and out-of-class experiences to foster a sense of community, belonging, and identity that is squarely attached to the institution’s core educational mission Brower & Dettinger, 1998; Inkelas & Weisman, 2003; Shapiro & Levine, 1999. We define L/L programs “as programs in which undergraduate students live together in a discrete portion of a residence hall (or the entire hall) and participate in academic and/or extra-curricular programming designed especially for them” Inkelas & Associates, 2008. L/L programs are thus driven by a strong belief in the significant potential for learning to occur outside of the college classroom, in the sphere of the residence hall.

Effective L/L programs have been described as making significant contributions to building a stronger scholarly community among undergraduate students and faculty by focusing on extending the boundaries of active learning beyond the classroom, thereby providing unique avenues for creativity, deep learning, and innovation in pedagogy Levine Laufgraben and Shapiro, 2004. As Shapiro and Levine 1999 stated, L/L programs are built on the idea that “a significant amount of what students learn during college comes from their experiences of daily living, and there is natural overlap between students’ academic and social learning activities” p. 36. In L/L programs, the residence hall comes to the fore as the environment that allows students to engage in a variety of social and academic pursuits.

Living/Learning Programs Their Potential For Women in STEM

Many of the environments and experiences facilitated by L/L programs have been shown to foster the success of women in STEM. Specifically, assessments of innovative efforts to facilitate persistence and success for women in STEM disciplines have found that the following activities are beneficial:

L/L programs, through their student-centered practices providing a supportive climate that emphasizes curricular and co-curricular offerings and students’ meaningful interactions with peers, faculty, and staff, thus hold special promise in enriching the experiences of women in STEM disciplines.

Living/Learning Programs Making Them Work For Women in STEM

This site represents the first effort to merge theory, research, and practice on the experiences of women in STEM in L/L programs at the nation’s colleges and universities to answer critical questions about how we can make L/L programs work for women in STEM.

This site presents empirical findings concerning the experiences and educational outcomes of women in STEM majors participating in various types of L/L programs. In doing so, it aims to make available sound practical recommendations that faculty and professional staff can use in strengthening and developing L/L programs tailored to facilitating the success of female undergraduates in STEM fields.

Living/Learning Programs Early Roots

The predecessors of L/L programs, residential colleges, date back to the earliest higher education institutions in the United States, taking their inspiration from the English college model represented by Oxford and Cambridge Ryan, 1992. From the earliest moments of higher education history, the idea of students and faculty living and learning together within the walls of the residence hall was understood as a centrally important element of students’ educational experiences. And while the residential college movement came under criticism at various points in history, leading to the creation of large research universities based on the German model of the university, the potential of the residential learning experience was again and again recognized Ryan. The most prominent manifestation of this recognition was represented by the important role attached to the residential experience at Ivy League institutions and, later, by the growing popularity of L/L programs.

Living/Learning Programs Modern Days

An additional source of influence in the recent L/L movement can be traced to the increased importance assigned to the educational potential of learning communities, communities that stress the ideals of liberal education, connected knowledge, student-centered education, democratic values, and frequent, meaningful interactions between students and teachers Shapiro & Levine, 1999; Levine Laufgraben & Shapiro, 2004. The most widely recognized origin of modern-day learning communities is Alexander Meiklejohn’s Experimental College at the University of Wisconsin, which operated from 1927 to 1932 and offered an organized educational program for the first two years of college education Shapiro & Levine, 1999.

Living/Learning Programs Today’s L/L Programs

Today, L/L programs have become a popular presence on college campuses across the United States. The National Study of Living Learning Programs, conducted at 46 institutions of higher education reported the existence of as many as 613 L/L programs. Most L/L programs existing currently on college campuses came into existence in recent years Soldner & Szelényi, 2008.

Age of Living / Learning Program graphic

Living/Learning Programs Types of L/L Programs

L/L programs show considerable variation in their thematic foci. So far, we have cataloged 41 different types of L/L programs, which can be clustered in to 17 broad categories Inkelas & Associates, 2008. These include:

Women in STEM majors participated in all L/L program types. However, specific programs were offered with a particular emphasis on STEM. These included:

Living/Learning Programs Challenges and Opportunities

Levine Laufgraben and Shapiro 2004 depicted L/L programs as holding “tremendous promise for creating intellectual and social communities on campus” p. 74. However, they also pointed to significant challenges, including:

The purpose of this site is to bring into focus practical approaches to building and strengthening L/L programs for one student population, undergraduate women in STEM. Above all, the recommendations presented in the manual are rooted in the recognition that the development of effective programmatic practices can only be achieved through an understanding of both ways in which the potential of L/L programs can be realized and the challenges addressed.

How This Site is Organized

This site has five main sections, including this introduction:

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