7 Essential Practices for Designing Any New Living-Learning Community

Living Learning Communities (LLCs), also known as Living Learning Programs (LLPs) or Residential Learning Communities (RLCs), are a high-impact practice employed by many colleges and universities as a way to engage students and connect them both to the campus community and each other. 

These communities are most often (although not exclusively) offered to first-year students and designed to provide residents with additional opportunities to engage with faculty and their peers around topics of shared academic or social interest.

LLCs are often touted as one of the unique benefits of living on campus. Students’ families perceive involvement in such a community as a way for their students to get a leg up within their academic major. Additionally, research has shown that such communities can provide for a smoother academic and social integration into the campus community. 

Such benefits do not happen organically, however. LLCs must be well thought out, and challenges must be anticipated and worked out prior to implementation. Fortunately, a bit of pre-planning can go a long way to ensuring your newest LLC is a success. Below are some tips you might consider for launching a new LLC on your campus. 

1. Pick a theme that resonates with students

First, it’s important to consider which type of LLC would be the right first (or additional) such community for your campus. 

Oftentimes, residents may be cluing you into what they are looking for. If not, take some time to consider whether it’s best to launch an LLC based around an academic major or around an area of social interest. 

Academic LLCs are most successful when targeted toward either an extremely popular major or when a few popular majors are grouped around a similar theme. For example, if engineering is the top major at your institutions, then there may be enough interest to sustain an LLC that’s purely about engineering. 

But if no single major stands out, you can consider designing one that targets multiple majors. For example, a pre-health LLC might be just the ticket to draw interest from a cross-section of residents who share similar interests. Maybe you might not have enough interest to sustain a dance LLC, but one focusing on all of the performing arts might draw enough interest to fill your available bed spaces. One benefit of grouping areas of interest together is that it widens the faculty pool you might draw upon to collaborate within programming

2. Find an interested faculty, staff, or office partner

Speaking of faculty, I find it most helpful to find at least one main mentor for each LLC. 

Faculty are the ideal mentors, as the opportunity to facilitate out-of-classroom interaction with professors is an invaluable way of increasing student comfort with in-classroom interactions. Faculty mentors can also connect students with opportunities that’ll later secure them internships, plus assist with student lab work and research. (In a previous post, I offered advice for drawing faculty in as interested campus partners.)

But if you can’t find a matching faculty member, then you can instead ask an administrator or staff member to be an LLC mentor. The point here is to have a consistent touchpoint for students and yourself — someone who is knowledgeable on the LLC topic to connect with. 

At my institution, Hofstra University, we have a leadership LLC in which first-year students explore ways to stretch their legs and practice their leadership skills. We expose them to student organization leaders and give them opportunities to learn about Greek life. And other campus student leaders, who are involved in our leadership certificate programs, are encouraged to mentor these residents as part of their own leadership development process. 

The natural partner for this LCC is an administrator in our student activities and leadership office. They’re extremely knowledgeable about campus leadership opportunities, plus, as the person overseeing that advanced leadership program, they can facilitate specific connections between students. Asking them to serve as a mentor to the community is mutually beneficial to both of our program interests. 

3. Match with a course or course cluster

Having the opportunity to not only live together but also take a course or courses together is another way that  LLCs can serve students. Many LLCs have a connected course or series of courses (a cluster) that students take together. 

In some LLCs, this is a requirement of residency. In others, it’s merely an option. Either way, this additional connectivity can assist students in making friends with classmates/hallmates and focusing on academic work despite the variety of distractions university life can provide. 

Such a design can encourage more students to study and learn from each back in the hall, as they can easily grab a meal and head back to the hall together to do academic work. Faculty for these courses may also be ideal campus partners to seek out as mentors for LLCs. 

4. Put it in the right building

The location of your LLC can make a huge difference to its success. 

Most often, LLCs are found in first-year residential areas, as the halls are most often marketed to first-year students. This is because first-year students are typically more interested in LLCs than their older peers who have already lived on campus for a while and have made other connections to the community. 

When considering placement options for your LLC, you will want to factor in the price point. Do students pay different amounts to live in different residential spaces? If so, is choosing one community over another going to price out the population you are targeting? 

Another factor to consider is the availability of meeting spaces. Having ample communal space will be critical to the success of your community. It will be much easier to entice students out of their rooms and down the hallway for a meeting than it will be to convince them to travel across campus. 

5. Design a logo

Prospective students and their families are bombarded with fliers, brochures, and emails from colleges and universities. LLCs can help your institution stand out! They’re a way of selling the types of campus connections that can be made at your institution. 

And if your campus has multiple LLCs, it is helpful to have a visual way for students to identify each and tell them apart. Logos can help. For example, each of my LLCs has its own unique icon and design color, but the overall set of icons match each other in size and shape. It’s easy to see that they’re all part of a larger whole. 

Seeing these logos can help families and prospective students quickly identify their community when attending campus tours of the residence halls, filling out housing applications, and preferencing connected course clusters. 

15 colorful logos with clear images includes an apple, a graduation cap, a compass, and a brain

logos representing  Missouri State University’s living-learning communities

6. Pick the right RA(s)

Resident Assistants serve as the first points of contact for residential students and can be great role models for students who are trying to figure out their paths forward, both socially and academically. 

If your LLC is academic-focused, you should recruit RAs who share that academic major. Not only will this allow students to better understand how course sequencing might work, but they can also seek out an RA for help with difficult academic challenges, get advice on working with specific faculty, and better strategize for landing an internship in a few years. 

If your LLC is focused more around a social interest, having an RA who serves as a campus leader around the topic can be a great way of focusing the (sometimes overly anxious) energy and passion often displayed by first-year students in a productive fashion. For example, students interested in recycling and sustainability might feel fired up and ready to start new campus recycling initiatives, and become frustrated when their ideas aren’t immediately implemented.

A more seasoned campus leader might be well attuned to what efforts have been tried before, and which efforts might be more successful, thus providing these passionate students early gratifying wins. 

7. Figure out a traditional program

Once you’ve established your LLC, work with your RA to create programming opportunities unique to your community. The programming model I utilize for LLCs on my campus has a traditional programming requirement for RAs to complete; this is a program that the LLC becomes known for and that they put on frequently. 

This traditional program should fit the needs of the community and draw student interest. For example, our business-focused LLC has a tradition of inviting the university president to speak with students in the hall each spring. If you have a performing arts LLC, perhaps you can host an annual open mic night or talent show for the entire campus to enjoy. Or your pre-health LLC residents might be interested in partnering with the counseling center to host an annual event, held each year before midterms, that focuses on mental health and stress reduction techniques.

Any programming that excites residents and gets them involved will not only benefit your residents, but also the entire campus community. 

Your successful new LLC might just be one brainstorm away!

What other steps have you taken in designing a new LLC? We’d love to learn about your process! Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus and @Russcular .

Dr. Russ Smith

About the author: Dr. Russ Smith (he/him) is the Director of Residential Education at Hofstra University. He's a proud graduate of NYU’s Higher Education and Student Affairs MA program, as well as the Educational & Policy Leadership Ed.D. program at Hofstra University. He's passionate about advocating for first-generation students and loves films of all types. Learn how we can help get your students involved.