Research Brief Explores Living-Learning Communities and Independent Higher Education

To help campus leaders make informed choices about future directions for their institutions, CIC develops and commissions research reports and briefs that demonstrate the strengths of smaller independent colleges and highlight innovative strategies. In 2015, as part of two complementary initiatives—the Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education and the Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education public information campaign—CIC published four reports and four briefs, which are available at

CIC’s most recent research brief, released in October, focuses on living-learning communities and independent higher education. Although residential education has been part of the undergraduate experience at America’s independent colleges and universities since the colonial era, the living-learning communities described in this research brief are a relatively new phenomenon. The communities combine curricular, co-curricular, and residential components in a purposeful way to encourage frequent and enduring collaboration among students, faculty members, and staff and thus significantly enhance students’ academic and social development.

Other key points explored in the brief include the following:
  • Research suggests that living-learning communities have a measurable positive impact on academic performance, intellectual development, civic engagement, and the smooth transition of first-year students into college life, among other desirable student outcomes.
  • Challenges to developing and maintaining effective living-learning programs include difficulties related to assessment approaches, faculty participation, collaboration between academic and student affairs staff, and program costs.
  • Independent colleges and universities have developed living-learning communities for a wide range of student populations—first-year students, first-generation students, upper-class students with specific academic interests, even commuters—in a variety of residential settings from traditional dorms to yurts.
The research briefs are easily accessible, practical resources for institutions that are considering new opportunities and strategies. Together, they aim to help CIC members reflect on the distinctive pedagogy of independent higher education from the vantage point of the strategic goals and challenges for their campus. Each brief includes a review of recent research, identifies examples of proven and promising innovations at CIC member institutions, and poses questions for further discussion.

CIC will release the final research brief, which will explore online education in the context of CIC institutions, and additional research reports this winter. CIC encourages member institutions to share the publications with faculty and staff colleagues, trustees, and supporters as well as local media.