Only half of the students who begin in the 'U' Residential College complete the program. Why?

Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 3:58pm

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design by Taylor Schott

Only one out of every two students who enter the Residential College graduate with a degree from the program, according to RC Director Catherine Badgley.

Students The Daily spoke to who left the RC, which provides LSA students with a four-year interdisciplinary liberal arts program in the form of a living-learning community, cited stringent degree requirements and financial stress as reasons for dropping. 

Badgley said about half of the students who enter the RC program drop within two years.  

“Over the last 20 years, there has been a very consistent rate of about half the entering class leaving the Residential College, but for a variety of reasons, and at different stages,” Badgley said. “Most of those departures occur after the first year, or in graduating seniors.”

RC requirements include first- and second-year residency within East Quad, a first-year writing seminar, completion of RC Semi-Immersion Foreign Language Sequences and an arts practicum in the form of an RC creative arts class. Students who are non-RC majors also have to take four additional RC classes. 

LSA senior Sage Renstrom-Richards is a computer science major who left the RC because she couldn’t fit the extra requirements into her schedule. She said it was difficult to handle the RC requirements since she had to fulfill LSA distribution requirements and the requirements for her major. 

“I wanted to have the freedom just to choose other classes that I was interested in,” Renstrom-Richards said. “Even if people have the room in their schedules to fit it in, just having a longer list of requirements makes the flexibility a lot more constrained.” 

The RC offers five intensive programs: Spanish, French, German, Russian and Japanese. However, students may choose a different language through LSA as long as it is not already offered by the RC. 

On top of meeting the LSA language requirement, RC students must complete an advanced readings course in that language. All RC intensive languages meet twice a day four days per week to provide students with an immersive experience, including mandatory language lunch tables to help students build their communication skills. 

According to Badgley, students may choose to leave the program early primarily due to the cost of housing and the intensive language program requirements. 

“The folks leaving after the first year are often leaving because the residency requirement requires an expensive commitment to both the housing and the meal plan,” Badgley said. “That’s difficult for people depending on their family budgets. Some students do not wish to complete the intensive language requirement, although LSA also has a language requirement, but it’s not as intensive as it is here in the Residential College.”

Badgley also said graduating seniors often forget about or decide not to complete the four course requirements for non-RC majors. 

Badgley noted many RC classes satisfy the distribution requirements for LSA. For that reason, she said she doesn’t consider it a heavy burden. However, Badgley said finishing all of the RC requirements can be difficult for students who try to complete more than one major.

According to statistics provided to The Daily by Charlie Murphy, director of RC Academic Services, 47 percent of students of the 2018 RC graduating class completed more than one major. 

“One trend that we have seen is that more and more students are either doing double majors or are doing majors plus a minor,” Badgley said. “That means they have many more course requirements in their concentration, and that may be putting pressure on the four course requirement for the Residential College if those courses are not in some way contributing to their concentrations.”

Badgley also noted other professional schools at the University of Michigan have increased their undergraduate program offerings. Many of these programs, such as the Ford School of Public Policy, students are accepted during as sophomores and begin taking classes as juniors, and this could be another reason students drop the program.

LSA senior Brandon Bond plans to graduate with an RC degree. He said some people have beliefs about the RC that could make it a less attractive option for incoming students. 

“We have the reputation for being the ‘weird’ kids,” Bond said. “That goes a lot into the recruitment (and) retention. People don’t want to be associated with being the ‘other crowd’ or the ‘other community.’”

LSA senior Kate Puca also plans on graduating with an RC degree and said she has heard of this stigma. She said the stereotype is often brought up when she introduces herself.

“There is definitely that stigma that RC people are weird, and I think that discourages a lot of people from continuing with it,” Puca said. “Ross has a stigma, Engineering has a stigma to it. Depending on what your path is, people are going to label and stereotype you in a certain way.”

Bond and Puca both disagree with this stereotype. Bond said he is extremely grateful for the RC program and he loves the community the program has built. 

“From my perspective, it’s just people who want to be as true to themselves, and as honest and open about themselves as possible,” Bond said. “The RC does an amazing job at creating a community where people do genuinely feel comfortable expressing that.”

Bond also said East Quad is a prime location for many students. According to Bond, many people choose to participate in the RC program because students know they are guaranteed Central Campus housing for their first two years. 

Puca said proximity to campus was one of the reasons she initially joined the RC program. However, she stayed because she found the intensive language program helpful towards her Spanish minor and enjoyed the community. 

“That’s why I originally did it too, to be honest … I know a lot of people (who did it for housing),” Puca said, “It’s just that East Quad is so close to campus, and they were afraid of being put on North Campus that they opted into RC and then dropped it.”

Badgley said RC staff is working to fight the attrition rate by making some of the requirements more flexible.

“We are aware of students needing support within the language program, and we’ve increased the number of peer tutors who help students during these intensive languages,” Badgley said. “As far as the live-in requirement for the second year, there is a petition waiver, so it’s not an absolute. When a petition is submitted to waive that second-year requirement, the deciding body takes a close look at the student's financial needs and other considerations. We’re trying to make it flexible.”

Even though many students do not complete the RC program, Badgley said the RC program is still thriving.

“The students who declare an interest in the Residential College and who actually arrive here have increased in the last two years, and they show every sign, this year, of increasing even further,” Badgley said. 

Reporter Francesca Duong can be reached at fduong@umich.edu