College dorm services: Right on site

Why colleges are expanding services within residence halls and how to determine what to offer

Students used to trek across campus to reach resources such as counseling, health services and study areas—or to simply pick up packages in the mail room. They had to leave campus altogether to find specialty services such as dry cleaning and dog grooming. And then, of course, there were the endless trips to the basement to check the status of their laundry.

To increase the odds that students—especially freshmen—are taking advantage of campus resources, colleges are adding to and enhancing the services offered in residence halls. The result: Many lifestyle, health and academic needs are met without having to leave the living space.

“Student expectations have changed,” says Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life at Purdue University in Indiana and president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International. “Residence halls are starting to integrate services that might not have been available or convenient before, and making them priorities for residence life.”

Sidebar: Industry insight on residence hall service expectations

Deciding exactly what to dedicate funding and space to within residence halls, however, can be a challenge. As the following case studies show, the answers to a few key questions are important to developing effective offerings.

Rethinking a traditional dorm essential: Laundry facilities

Get an app for that

– LaundryView: Shows machine availability and sends alerts by email or text when a laundry load is complete; the app is free via Laundry facilities contractor CSC ServiceWorks.

– My Laundry: Schedule a pickup at a residence hall, track the progress of loads, receive notifications when clean laundry is ready for pickup—and get a running count of hours saved by not doing laundry.


Which campus services are students not accessing enough?

A 2017 American College Health Association report detailed the threats that depression and anxiety pose to academic success. According to research published in The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, depressed students are twice as likely to drop out of college.

Access to mental health services, however, increases student retention and success, says Barry A. Schreier, director of counseling services and a psychologist at The University of Iowa.

Until 2016, the counseling center on the 1,880-acre campus was located across the river and a significant walking distance from residence halls, making it inconvenient for students.

“We knew freshmen were the least frequent users of mental health services and we needed to acknowledge an unmet need for a specialized service within our residence halls,” says Schreier. Now, counselors are embedded in residence halls. The first such counselor took over a vacant office in Stanley Hall, which houses 384 students.

Overwhelming demand led the university to embed a second counselor less than one year later. Both counselors now work out of the new 1,049-bed Catlett Hall, which was constructed with two small offices to house onsite counselors—and there is still a waiting list.

All students in the residence hall system can make individual appointments with embedded counselors or attend group counseling sessions; walk-in appointments are also offered for students in crisis.

Both counselors and resident advisors promote the availability of mental health services and students choose whether to attend sessions in the main counseling center or in Catlett Hall.

“Students have said if counseling services weren’t in their residence hall, they wouldn’t use them at all,” says Schreier.

Rethinking a traditional dorm essential: Laundry facilities (cont.)

Offer cashless convenience 

Eliminate coin-operated machines by:

– making machines “free” (covering the cost through student fees)

– upgrading washers and dryers so students can pay by swiping a campus card


What services can be brought to residence halls via events?

Determining the locations of dorms, classrooms and dining halls is essential, but new students—who may feel overwhelmed by navigating a new campus—might not prioritize seeking out other campus resources. Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, which has four housing options, came up with some solutions.

“We wanted students to know what services were available and how to reach out before there was a crisis situation,” says Jamia Danzy, director of housing and residence life.

Monroe held its first annual Resource Fair in September 2017 at Canal Hall, a 772-bed freshman residence. Representatives from campus departments—ranging from health and counseling to academic advising and career services—introduced students to their services and offered programming ranging from sleep awareness sessions to yoga.

Danzy opted to host the event in the dorm to boost its visibility and increase student participation. “Students are more successful when they take advantage of all of the resources our campus offers, and we thought that building those relationships [with multiple departments] early in their college careers would help contribute to their overall success,” she says.

Monroe hasn’t collected data to assess whether the Resource Fair increased the number of freshmen seeking campus services, but Danzy received a lot of positive feedback. She plans to make the event a regular part of residence life.

Rethinking a traditional dorm essential: Laundry facilities (cont.)

Consider the best operation option 

Student-run laundry services can offer pickup and cleaning services.

– Outside provider: Students at Washington University in St. Louis can enroll to have laundry picked up from their rooms and then dry-cleaned, with clothes delivered clean and folded. The provider, University Laundry, works with 22 higher ed institutions—offering weekly service plans or on-demand dry cleaning.

– Student-run: Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, offers a similar student-founded, student-run service, the HillFresh Laundry company. A for-profit, HillFresh subcontracts the work to the institution’s long-standing laundry services provider.

The big picture: “We are always looking for ways to make the campus experience better for our students and part of that is looking for ways to make everyday tasks more convenient.” —Angela Agnello, director of marketing, Faculty Student Association, Stony Brook University

Is there demand for the service?

A decade ago, an incoming Stephens College student requested permission to share a dorm room with her pet. Since the first four-legged canine resident moved into the residence hall, the pet population at the Columbia, Missouri, institution has exploded. More than 100 dogs, cats and rabbits now live on campus.

“I think it draws students,” says director of residential life Alissa Pei. “We get students who aren’t sure what they want their major to be but they know they want to bring their dog to college.”

Currently, five of the seven residence halls allow animals, and Stephens College is regarded as the most pet-friendly campus in the nation. The animal welcome mat goes beyond merely allowing their presence, as students can access myriad pet services without leaving their residence halls.

Searcy Hall is known as “pet central” because the dorm houses pet-friendly study spaces and a dog bathing station. Residence life activities include classes on making dog treats and cat toys. And when a student requested a doggie daycare, the college added a facility in Searcy Hall in 2011.

A $200 pet fee per semester gives students unlimited free access to these services.

“If we can prevent them from having to load their dog up to take it [into town] to be groomed or for daycare, we want to offer them that opportunity,” Pei says. “By having these resources for them, we’re able to maximize their experience here.”

Jodi Helmer, a frequent contributor to UB, is a North Carolina-based writer.


Most Popular