CMU students rank their residence halls above national average in every category

Tyler Alvarado loves an open door.

When he walks through the hallways at Cobb Hall, where he’s lived for the past three years, he hears voices calling out, “Hi, Tyler!”

“There’s a friendliness,” he says. “People say hello on your way to class.

“It feels like home.”

Tyler isn’t the only one who thinks so.

CMU students have ranked their residence halls above the national average in each of 19 categories. Those include dining services, facilities, sense of community, safety and security, and overall program effectiveness.

The annual survey by Educational Benchmarking, Inc., in partnership with the Association of College and University Housing Officers - International includes 250 universities across the nation.

CMU has participated in this survey since 2003 and has always done well. But this year’s results were the best ever -- the first time CMU has done better than or tied with other schools in every category.

“We’re thrilled,” says Joan Schmidt, director of Residence Life. “Students are only in class about 15 hours a week, which leaves a lot of time to spend elsewhere. And a lot of that time is spent in residence halls. So we try to fill that time with as many positive things as possible.”

She offers a few of her favorites:

  • Student Success Centers. An academic advisor and a counselor in residence are available in each residence hall area, as well as success coaches. In addition, each Residence Hall Director is trained in academic advising.

    “These are really a point of pride,” Schmidt says. “Parents did not have this opportunity when they were in college. Students don’t even have to leave their halls to get help and advice.”
  • Private bathrooms.

    “A lot of universities don't have those, and some are still building residence halls with community bathrooms,” Schmidt says. “They make a tremendous difference to students.”
  • Fitness areas in the residence halls.

    Even though CMU boasts a fantastic Student Activities Center, some days you just want to stay cozy and work out at home.
  • Maintenance staff who can fix anything -- and fast. Bonus: they’re assisted by students, who learn handy skills for the future along the way.

Parents will notice a lot has changed since their old “dorm” days, Schmidt says.

“We used to refer to them as dorms -- it was a place to eat and sleep,” Schmidt says. “Now it’s a community -- a place students really can call home.”

Freshman Tanner Schudlich calls Sweeney Hall home.

“Everyone seems to really care about how I’m doing, how I’m feeling,” he says. “It’s like living with friends, 24/7.”

Tanner has a peanut allergy, and says he’s impressed with how the dining choices cater to students with all kinds of needs, from allergies to those who choose vegan or gluten-free diets.

Tyler lived in Herrig Hall as a freshman, then became a Resident Assistant at Cobb his sophomore year and never left.

He makes sure the residents of Cobb stay busy, he says. He rattles off a long list of activities, from crazy food-eating contests to a Cobb Carnival to information sessions with campus services and organizations.

He’s watched while friends moved off campus.

“A lot of them have said they wished they stayed on campus,” Tyler says. “They miss how close the people are here. Off campus, everyone fends for themselves. I love the talking in the hallways, all the different personalities and the people I’ve met along the way.”

Living on campus has academic benefits, too.

CMU students who live in residence halls are 11.5 percent more likely to graduate in four years than those who live off campus, a statistic that holds up nationally.

And 91 percent of students living on CMU’s campus in 2010 for their first year came back to school for their second year. That compares to just 78.4 percent of students living off campus the first year.

Maybe they come back because they don’t want to miss anything.

“When we ask students what the best thing is about residence hall life, they says it’s that there’s always something to do,” Schmidt says. “Ask them what the most challenging thing is, and they say the same thing -- there’s so much to do.”