James Murray, UW-La Crosse assistant professor of economics, has found evidence that living on campus causes students to perform better academically.
The study of about 360 students at Indiana University-Purdue University found both an immediate effect and a more long-term effect of on-campus living. Students who were presently living on campus had a GPA from .3 to .9 higher than those who didn’t. Students who had once lived on campus continued to perform better academically even after moving off campus. Their GPA was from .3 to .5 higher.
“This may help universities take measures to improve their on-campus student life — to try to encourage behavior that leads to better academic performance,” says Murray.
The difficulty with such a study is proving causation and not simply correlation. For instance, are students who live on campus more motivated in the first place and therefore choose to live on campus? Murray and co-author, Pedro De Araujo, of Colorado College, avoided this pitfall by using a statistical technique called Instrumental Variables Regression to ensure they were comparing apples to apples.
A subsequent study the two published in December 2010 looked at the reasons why on-campus living might cause students to perform better. They compared various health and study habits of students living on and off campus. Among other findings, the study showed no evidence that students who were presently living on campus studied more or engaged in less alcohol or drug use. It did find, however, that students who had once lived on campus were studying more with peers and were using less alcohol and drugs than students who had never lived on campus.
“Universities can try to take steps to help students form positive, productive relationships with each other,” says Murray. “We found evidence that this is what was helping them.”