For anyone familiar with British education, the idea of a house system is common — in everything from boarding schools to universities.
House systems are increasingly available at U.S. institutions as well. At some universities, students apply for the housing program they prefer, while in others they are automatically assigned to a house.
Also called “living-learning communities,” U.S. house systems typically offer students the opportunity to live in special dorms (sometimes required for at least the first year). Other features of LLCs include dedicated academic staff, smaller classes and special emphasis classes.
In religious colleges and universities, house systems also offer unique opportunities for intensive pastoral care and discipleship.
‘Look like Jesus’
At Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, for instance, all incoming and unmarried students ages 18–24 accepted into The College at Southeastern are automatically placed in one of four houses.
“We seek to raise up students who are excellent in everything they do and look like Jesus in every aspect of their lives,” the college’s website explains. “We do this purposefully through the house system. From the moment a student steps on campus, they are being pursued by students in house system leadership who are intentional in community and accountability.”
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary launched its own house system last fall in an effort to promote fellowship and foster spiritual growth among undergrad students at Leavell College.
“One of the exciting opportunities provided by the house system is the ability to connect with others,” dean Thomas Strong III said in announcing the initiative. “Members of the house will have the opportunity to grow closer. Through this process, I am convinced they will grow in their relationship with Christ and … grow closer in community. This becomes the pattern for the remainder of life.”
In secular universities, students may be accepted into an LLC according to their academic capabilities, gender or race, among other categories. For example, students in a university’s Honors College often live in the same dorm and have opportunities to participate in special social and faculty interaction events throughout the year.
At Auburn University, first-year engineering students may join the Engineered For Success cohort.
College to career
At Jacksonville State University, the International House Program brings 20 American students and 20 international students together each year to focus on greater cultural understanding. JSU also offers the Leadership House for Women, an LLC comprised of 15 women focused on leadership development.
Regardless of its theme, the goal of any LLC is to enhance the student’s overall campus experience, residence life directors say.
A 2010 study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that students who participate in an LLC have a higher academic success rate, higher college graduation rates, higher levels of satisfaction with their college experience, and an easier time connecting with their peers.
Elements of an LLC, such as mentorships and professional development workshops, also can help students move successfully from college to career.
At the University of Alabama, the Blount Scholars Program, a selective, four-year, living-learning community, prides itself on small classes and intensive interaction with faculty.
First-year students must live in the Blount dorm and may remain there, if they choose, as they complete their undergraduate degree.
Those students also have exclusive use of facilities in two other buildings on campus.
“Generally, big colleges and universities are beginning to awaken to the fact that it’s useful to break your housing down into smaller units,” said associate professor Fred Whiting, who directs the program. “Blount offers social containment in the sea of some 36,000 students here at UA,” he said. “Parents are comforted about that. We’re welcoming, not cliquey.”
However it is designed and coordinated, an LLC’s purpose is to create community among students, faculty and others who can speak into students’ lives and help them succeed on campus and in life.
Rebecca Thrash, who now teaches in the math/science specialty department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, said her first year at the university would have been more lonely and challenging had she not been part of Blount’s house system.
“I truly found my community being in Blount, where the creative and interesting people I met were as enthusiastic about learning as I was,” she said. “I also started some of the best friendships I’ve had during that first year.”