Looking Deeper at Student Happiness


The Huffington Post recently tweeted a blog article highlighting a list of the “Top 10 Colleges with the Happiest Students.”

Seeing as I’m a sucker for top 10 lists, I had to peruse the list.  As I did, I noticed something that showed up in the description of each school listed.  Here are some quotes:

 “Although the size of the institution can be intimidating, especially at first, it allows for a varied and multi-faceted student body, one that is reflected in the multiplicity of activities on campus.”

“It took a lot of hard work for me to enjoy Colgate,” explains Kathleen, a Junior majoring in Psychology, “but once I found my niche(s), I couldn’t be happier.”

Brittany, a Psychology Junior, appreciates the mix of being in one of the largest cities in the world, complete with its distractions and advantages, while also being part of a small, tight-knit community.

“The best thing about Vassar is the community”

It’s no shock that student happiness at college is directly related to the feeling of “belonging.”  Finding that “community” is critical to how a student will define his/her time at college.

Back in May,  Alton Irwin wrote a blog post along these same lines.  His post had this quote:

“Research tells us that one of the most important causal factors associated with happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings.”

So where is the most natural place for those “meaningful connections” to occur?

There is no more logical place for community to begin (and thrive) than where you live while you’re in college.  A strong on-campus housing program is uniquely positioned to provide a place where students can connect, bond, and create life-long friendships.

When universities are focused on making sure their on-campus housing program maximizes the building of community, students get connected and feel like they belong.  When these students can achieve that feeling, they are more likely to stay and graduate, thus benefitting the student and the school.

Check out this quote from an article IowaStateDaily.com published last year:

“Students who live in the residence halls feel connected and get better acclimated to the university very quickly, resulting in them feeling more engaged both academically and personally. It’s what I believe leads to higher graduation and return rates.”

Now, going back to the Huffington Post list that brought us here…  I decided to check the retention rates (via IPEDS) for the schools listed, betting that they would all have exceedingly high retention rates.  I wasn’t disappointed.

  • Vassar College: 96%
  • UNC Chapel Hill: 97%
  • Carleton College:  96%
  • Colgate University: 95%
  • Brandeis University: 94%
  • George Washington University: 94%
  • Grinnell College: 93%
  • Boston University: 92%
  • Barnard College: 94%
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison: 94%

Not surprisingly, the “Top 10 Colleges with the Happiest Students,” also have exceedingly high retention rates.  For comparison sake, the national average retention rate for Public 4-year colleges is 73%.

I bet you’re now wondering what the housing program at each of these schools is like.  I did too!  So I decided to look at the percentage of freshman living on campus (via collegeboard.com):

  • Vassar College: 99%
  • UNC Chapel Hill: 100%
  • Carleton College:  100%
  • Colgate University: 100%
  • Brandeis University: 98%
  • George Washington University: 99%
  • Grinnell College: 100%
  • Boston University: 99%
  • Barnard College: 98%
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison: 90%

So almost every freshman at every one of those schools listed, lives on campus… a trademark of a strong housing program.

So, what’s the point?  Every one of those schools in the list make it very simple to connect the dots.  Very simply put:

A Strong On-Campus Housing Program = Student Happiness = Student Success = Retention

What other thoughts do you have regarding student happiness in HigherEd?