As an 18-year-old freshman in August 1987, Frank Shushok unpacked his belongings from the family car and moved into Brooks Hall, eager to begin his college experience. Three weeks later, he was ready to leave.
"My Brooks experience was a bad one. I wanted to transfer," says Dr. Shushok, who returned to Baylor in August 2001 as associate dean for Campus Living and Learning, previously the Department of Residence Life. What kept the young Shushok at Baylor was getting involved in an organization where he found a group of friends.
"If that had not happened, I would have left," he says.
Now, as an administrator, his goal is to transform the residence life experience so dramatically that more and more of the 85 percent who historically leave residence life between their freshman and sophomore years will choose to stay - a trend not seen at the University in decades. In recent years, that's the way Baylor has needed it to be because of occupancy rates. Baylor houses 97 percent of its freshmen, and its 11 current dorms and three apartment complexes are filled to the rafters.
"It's the reality that, in the last several years, Baylor needed those rooms for incoming freshmen," Dr. Shushok says. "Now, we want to make living on campus so attractive that students want to stay on through their sophomore year or longer."
"Creating a truly residential campus" is the second imperative of Baylor 2012, the University's 10-year Vision, with a goal of having at least 50 percent of Baylor undergraduates living on campus a decade from now. It's an imperative that embodies much more than housing students in double-loaded corridor dorms, says Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr.
"There's a commitment in the Vision that "place" matters," Dr. Sloan says. "We haven't built a new bed in 40 years on Baylor's campus. We recognize that we need to make attractive spaces. Fifty percent is just an initial goal. We're working toward 75 percent."
Dr. Sloan cites the University of Notre Dame as an example, where 90 percent of students live on campus all four years. "That creates a completely different experience. People are loyal to Notre Dame to a fault, and it's because they had a four-year experience in one place. But we don't expect to be able to do that by warehousing people in Collins or Penland," he says.
Baylor is not the only college dealing with aging and outmoded student housing facilities. "You see a real resurgence of building on college campuses," says Dr. Eileen Hulme, vice president for student life. "Part of that is related to all the research that continues to be done on the total educational experience of the university. Many universities are becoming quite convinced that something significant happens outside the classroom and that it's important."
Dr. Hulme sees student gathering places - residence halls, the union, student life centers and student organizations - as laboratories in which young people experiment with who they are becoming.
"In science classrooms, they're running experiments around scientific process," she says. "In the residence halls, they're trying out relationships, working on their identities, their values, their communication styles, so it's a laboratory, as well."
As Baylor proceeds with implementing 2012, the University has a rare opportunity to intentionally develop academic and community excellence in tandem, a balance often forfeited in the face of limited financial resources, Dr. Hulme says.
"Sometimes universities think community excellence has to be at odds with academic excellence. What we're trying to say is that, at Baylor, they work together and have to be developed hand in hand," she says. "It really is unique to see universities balance that and not sacrifice one for the other."
Working closely with CL&L to transform the residence life experience is the Office of University Ministries, led by its dean, Dr. Todd Lake. Last year, Baylor began a resident chaplain program, placing five graduate students from George W. Truett Theological Seminary in different residence halls. They are the pioneers of a program designed to mentor undergraduates as they develop intellectually, morally and spiritually. The chaplains' experience last year was invaluable in shaping how the program will expand this fall, Dr. Lake says.
"They helped us craft what is the best way to use their time," he says. "You couldn't have the second year without the first year. They are the first line of pastoral care and counseling for our residents."
The program, a partnership among University Ministries, CL&L and the Seminary, will expand to eight halls this fall. CL&L provides the chaplains' housing in apartments created in each hall. University Ministries provides the chaplains' living stipends and works with them to set up Bible studies, mission trips and retreats on vocation. It also provides training and support for pastoral care and counseling. Truett Seminary provides a professor to mentor the chaplains in one-on-one sessions and as a group.
This intentional spiritual mentoring grew out of a changed society that is reflected on Baylor's campus, Dr. Lake says.
"Students used to come to Baylor, transfer their church membership and get involved in their new 'church home,'" he says. "Because undergraduates are much less inclined to do that nowadays, it's necessary for Baylor to be much more intentional in creating programs for Christian growth and service."
The practice of having trained spiritual mentors available to students in their residence halls is rare outside of Catholic universities, Dr. Lake says.
"We'll be the only Protestant university in the country that does this," he says. "This is a perfect way for the seminarians to get additional training in an area to which they feel called, and for us to benefit from their presence."
A new kind of residence hall
Enticing students to maintain their residence on campus means providing pleasant living environments, Dr. Shushok says. Today's students arrive at college expecting and desiring more aesthetics and amenities - something more than shared hall bathrooms and cinder block walls. Those expectations are being addressed, he says. Baylor plans to add 2,500 beds to its current 3,500, with the first new residential facility ready for occupancy in fall 2004. Other planned residence halls will open every two years.
Called 'residential villages,' Baylor's new residence halls will offer apartments and suites with private baths and kitchen access. Perks might include a convenience store, coffee bar or a reading room a la Barnes & Noble. Some classes might be taught on-site, with passes provided to the faculty for a shared meal afterward. There also might be a writing center that would be staffed until midnight, "when students are writing their papers anyway," Dr. Hulme says.
"We've begun to develop the idea of academic integration in the residence hall - not to replicate what happens in the classroom, but to support what happens in the classroom. I think it will be a model nationally," she says.
While Baylor plans for the new, it still must deal with the old. A consultant was hired last spring to give recommendations on each current dorm. All will be either renovated, razed or reconfigured, Dr. Shushok says. A housing redevelopment plan incorporating the consultant's recommendations went before the Board of Regents this summer. The first major renovation will occur in Alexander and Memorial halls once the new hall opens in 2004.
Keeping the cost of housing at Baylor competitive will continue to be a priority for the University, Dr. Shushok says. "There will be a variety of housing options and a variety of prices that go with these options. Nevertheless, our fees will remain very competitive with the private market."
Sophomore Charlie Malmberg, who lived in Penland his freshman year, thinks it will take more than niceties to keep students on campus.
"I don't think students will respond as much as Baylor thinks they will," he says. "If you have the choice between living in an apartment with no rules and living in a dorm, anyone will choose freedom."
Malmberg, who is from San Antonio, says he loved his dorm experience and made close friends but will be living in an apartment this fall. For him, it's about choices. In an apartment, he says, "you don't have to put up with the loud guys down the hall." Apartments also have kitchens, personal bathrooms and no visitation restrictions.
"Baylor will have to make the dorms a much better financial deal to overcome all the advantages of living in an apartment," he says.
Erin Pirkle, a sophomore from Lubbock, spent her freshman year in North Russell. She believes incoming freshmen should live in a dormitory, even though it's not mandatory at Baylor.
"You're with 400 girls going through the exact same thing you are. It's new, you don't know a single soul, but you're constantly meeting people and that's how you find your niche. I feel that campus life is something you need to experience," she says.
But, one year was enough for her. Pirkle will move into a house with four friends this fall. Her reasons are financial, plus she wants to have more space and a homier environment.
Pirkle also pledged a sorority her freshman year and says the Greek system plays an important role in where upperclassmen choose to live.
"A lot of freshmen break off after that," she says, referring to rushing and pledging in the spring semester. "You go through this and you're separated, you've got a bond with these other girls or boys."
Dr. Shushok says less than 25 percent of Baylor students are involved in Greek life at Baylor, which doesn't allow Greek houses on campus. Once in a sorority or fraternity, though, Pirkle says students tend to group together either in apartment complexes or in privately owned houses after their freshman year. For that reason, she doubts Baylor can entice those students to stay on campus.
"I really don't think it will work, to be honest," she says.
Dr. Shushok commends the Greek system for helping students find community, but he also wants those who don't choose to pledge or rush to find their niche. For some, that may develop around academic disciplines.
"We hope and expect that many students will attach to an 'academic identity' through some of our living/learning residential environments," he says.
To expedite this process, Baylor hired Terri Garrett this summer for the newly created position of CL&L associate director for learning initiatives.
Hiring for mission fit
To help move Baylor from a 'sleep and eat' to a 'live and learn' approach to residence hall life, Dr. Hulme brought Dr. Shushok back to Baylor. He is one of a growing number of young professionals in the emerging field of student affairs, which emphasizes academic community life. After receiving his BS in education at Baylor in 1991, he earned his master's in higher education policy at Ohio State in 1993. In April, he completed his PhD in the same field at the University of Maryland.
Hiring the right people to build community at Baylor is key to transforming the residence life experience, Dr. Shushok says. "There was a growing concern among the Baylor family that students are much less engaged with the Baylor community than they were even 10 years ago," he says. "A lot of quantitative research shows how important community is to student outcomes, and it was beginning to be scarce at a university founded on the very notion of Christian community."
Last spring, Elizabeth Wallace, CL&L associate director, spent several weeks traveling across the country to interview some of those young professionals for eight residence hall director positions. She sought applicants who had a master's degree in college student personnel, higher education administration, counseling or ministry, plus two years of residence life experience. Salary is $26,000 with a staff apartment and a partial meal plan.
"We're hiring for mission fit and career experience. They are the ones who really set the vision for each individual hall. We want them to understand the college student, the unique needs and stages they're going through," Wallace says.
The residence hall directors are responsible for three elements: basic facilities issues, administrative duties and student development, Wallace says. They will live in apartments in the residence halls.
Working with the directors will be a new breed of RAs, now called community leaders. Wallace and her staff recruited campuswide from key student leadership organizations last spring. These positions include a new, competitive compensation package: free room, a meal plan and a graduated stipend based on years of service, from $300 to $1,000 a year. The CL&L office received 226 applications - double the number received last year - for 88 positions.
"We want student leaders who love pouring themselves into other people's lives. If you're not into relationships, this isn't a position for you," Wallace says.
Once selected, the community leaders received extensive training. Beginning in the spring and throughout the summer, they were trained in the core values, mission and service philosophy of the CL&L office. Additional sessions included relationship and community building and faith development. The expectations for these young people are high.
"We expect them to mentor the students who live on their halls, to connect them to the Baylor experience, to create an environment absolutely inclusive to every person, to build authentic, meaningful relationships," Wallace says. "We also told them you will not only discover your own God-given talents, skills and gifts, but also will help the students on your hall explore theirs. They listened, they believed it and they overwhelmingly said, 'Pick me!'"
A midpoint experience
In recent years, Baylor residence life has meant restrictive visitation hours, inflexible policies and a strong expectation by parents for the University to serve in loco parentis (in place of parents). The first visible change came this spring when the Department of Residence Life became Campus Living and Learning and when RAs became community leaders. The name changes weren't random decisions.
"Even by changing our name, we're saying we're not just out here to provide a place to live or to keep the chaos down," Dr. Hulme says. "We're here to embrace, support and invigorate the academic experience, to acknowledge that the life of the mind doesn't just happen between 10 and 11 a.m. in the English class, but that the life of the mind happens in our living experience."
Next, Baylor relaxed its visitation hours in University housing. Approved in the spring and effective this fall, hours will be extended to 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Baylor apartments given noon to midnight visitation hours Saturday and Sunday.
"When we changed our visitation hours, we heard some concerns from parents," Wallace says. "There will come a time when students move to an apartment and their choices are pretty much wide open. What I hope is that the students' residential experiences are the midpoint between their parents' home and total freedom."
'Total freedom' may not be quite the drawing card for Baylor students one might assume. The CL&L division commissioned consultants to conduct focus groups among students. They found that most Baylor students didn't rate a 'rules-free' environment a high priority, Dr. Shushok says. "The firm that conducted many of our focus groups was shocked that the vast majority of Baylor students had no interest in coeducational halls, for example."
New and renovated residential centers, relaxed visiting hours, quality staffing, resident chaplains, coffee bars and convenience stores - by anyone's definition, this is an ambitious spate of activity for a division that has not changed substantially in decades.
"Two years ago, we looked at residence life and we left no stone unturned in our planning," Dr. Hulme says. "Now, we're beginning to reap the benefits."