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Q&A on residential life

What’s unusual in terms of the way Binghamton approaches residential living?
Most campuses have a buffer zone that separates the residential and academic areas. On this campus, the two are far more integrated physically.

The residential communities were designed around the Oxford model. To say you’re going to follow an Oxford model is one thing, but to make it work is another. The faculty masters, area-based courses and linked courses are important in connecting the student to the academic and residential communities.

Another factor is that we have a good mix of students in each community, about 31 percent freshmen, 30 percent sophomores, 22 percent juniors and 14 percent seniors. The older students teach by their behavior the importance of academics.

We have 6,400 beds, which is a relatively large number of students living on campus. However, those beds are divided into colleges of roughly 1,000 and the halls have been kept small. When you go to the main lounge of a residence hall, you will see that students have a sense of belonging and community. Students are connected to their community. The buildings are small by comparison to other campuses and the student-to-staff ratio is small, too. The connection students have to the campus contributes to the University’s good retention rate.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to customer service? Students didn’t come here to get a degree in housing bureaucracy and we shouldn’t be trying to confer one.

My view is that our service to our customers – the students – should be transparent. Good service is forgettable; bad service is memorable. You don’t want to remember the service you got. Ken Blanchard writes in his book Raving Fans that you only need to exceed customers’ expectations by 1 percent to create raving fans. While that doesn’t say much for service today, it does tell us that service is important to our customers.

The student is both a customer and a learner. We have to remember that for our students there’s not always a clear line between the two. There are times when they see themselves as customers when they are in a learner relationship. We have to help them navigate between customer and learner, which is all part of student success.

What do today’s students look for in the way of amenities? What students are looking for in the way of amenities is a moving target. The Internet has changed expectations. Today they expect a response just after they push the “send” button. We have moved to an online application format and are moving more and more of our administrative process online in response to student demand. Thirty years ago students didn’t have nearly the “stuff” that they do today. Many students years ago would be able to get all their belongings into two suitcases. Today you are lucky if they can get everything into two car loads. Because of all the things students bring today, the rooms need to be bigger.

Communication is today, as it was years ago, very important. Students years ago would check their mailboxes three and four times a day. Today they might check their mailbox once a week, but their e-mail they check many times a day. Ten years ago it was critical to have dial tone in the room when the student checked in. Today students all have cell phones, so a dial tone isn’t as important, but Internet connection is a must.

What kinds of changes do you see taking shape on campus? The campus is the best laid out campus I have seen. Residential and academic space is integrated in positive ways that connect the student to the campus. There is such strong support at Binghamton for the connection of residential and academic that it can only get better.

The kind of support found at Binghamton is based in the belief that our students will be successful. When students are accepted here, it’s understood that they have the academic skills to succeed and as such are thought of both as students and graduates.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08