Residence Life is the terminology used to describe the comprehensive program that surrounds the experience of living "on and off campus" in a residence hall at a college or university in Canada and the United States. Residence Life is usually structured with planned events (called "programming"), a code of conduct and/or ethics, and a relatively large array of staff.
Living on-campus could help facilitate students’ transition into college. With residence halls accommodating hundreds of students, young individuals should not have trouble meeting new people. There are a variety of social activities conducted by universities that allow residents to participate and interact with others. Part of an institution’s goal is to provide students with a place where they can live comfortably, thus enhancing their overall college experience. Residential students are also closer to the union, restaurants and the recreation center. The opportunity to be socially engaged is always there.
Students might also find it useful to reside on campus because of the proximity and immediate access to necessary resources such as computers, printers, and books in the library, or tools from the laboratories. It would be easy to arrange a study group with classmates and, moreover, meet with professors.
Safety is a priority for colleges and universities around the nation. Student ID’s are usually necessary to enter residence halls and guests are to check in at the front desk or with residence life staff upon arrival. Security guards/officers and campus police patrol campuses and are easy to contact. Signs are on each floor typically with numbers to Security, University Police or Residence Life Staff on-call phones. It is important for students to feel safe and comfortable in the environment they are in in order to academically perform to their full potential.
As one of three components of a college/university housing program, Residence Life is often one responsibility of a larger Housing office or department. On some campuses, however, Residence Life and Housing are responsibilities of separate departments or organizations.
Residence Life, or the department which encompasses it, usually reports to the Division of Student Affairs. However, on campuses with a separate Housing department it is not uncommon for that department to report to the Business Services or Auxiliary Services division or area as most of their responsibilities will be financial, legal, and physical (as opposed to the developmental nature of "pure" Residence Life).
Regardless of which division to which it reports, Housing departments are usually self-supporting auxiliary departments which receive little or no financial support from the college/university (i.e. tuition or fees). They are dependent on revenue from rent and cost-recovery mechanisms (damage charges, bills for services such as network or telephone service, etc.).
Residence Life professionals typically possess a Master's Degree in college student personnel, higher education, counseling, or a related field. Typical Residence Life departments are overseen by a director, associate director, or assistant director; these positions may be "live-on" (required to live on campus), depending on the needs of the university and the size of the staff required to be on-call to respond to student emergencies.
Many campuses also employ graduate students, graduate assistants or entry-level professionals (most commonly with Master's Degrees) that directly supervise the RAs and other undergraduate staff (such as desk workers). This staff are variously referred to as Hall Directors (HDs), Resident Directors (RDs), or Residence Life Coordinators (RLCs). The titles vary between institutions with some institutions using the same title to refer to their graduate student staff that another uses for their entry-level staff. These staff members are "live-in" (required to live in the residence hall, often in a larger or otherwise extraordinary space) or live-on to fulfill their frequent on-call duties.
Typically, each residence hall also employs several Resident Assistants, or RAs. These are undergraduate or graduate students who are tasked with helping the students living on their hallway get to know each other. Resourceful RAs can use a variety of planned or spontaneous events—called programming in the field's nomenclature—to this end. They are also charged with enforcing university rules and regulations and providing general assistance to residents. RAs are often reimbursed with free or discounted room, free or discounted board, a stipend, or even all three. On most campuses, RAs receive intense training at the beginning of the academic year. In addition to ongoing training, some campuses have several days of training at the beginning of the second semester.
If the residence hall has a front desk or area office, it is often manned by students who provide assistance to the residents such as accepting packages delivered to the residence hall, reporting maintenance problems, or opening doors for residents who have lost their key(s) (often for a charge).
Some Resident Assistants may also be assigned overnight duty. Overnight duty is when a Resident Assistant is on call all night. Most of the time Resident Assistants are in their hall office till 12:00 am. After 12:00 am they are to report to their room for the rest of the night. On call duties consist of helping with lock outs and noise complaints.
- Association of College and University Housing Officers - International (ACUHO-I): International association of housing officers which publishes a peer-reviewed journal (The Journal of College and University Student Housing) twice a year, publishes a magazine (Talking Stick) approximately every two months, and hosts multiple conferences each year in the United States and abroad.
- National Association of College and University Residence Halls, Inc. (NACURH): American organization which provides resources to on-campus residents, particularly Residence Hall Associations (RHAs) and other similar groups of resident leaders.
- Kuh, George, Robert Gonyea, and Megan Palmer.“The Disengaged Commuter Student: Fact or Fiction?”, Indiana University for Postsecondary Research and Planning, Retrieved on 20 March 2012.
- Bozick, Robert (2007). “Making It through the First Year of College: The Role of Students' Economic Resources, Employment, and Living Arrangements." Sociology of Education 80.3 : 261-84.
- The ACUHO-I Ethical Principles and Standards for College and University Student Housing Professionals lays out the three components of a college/university housing program: Business/Management, Education/Programming, and Physical Plant.
- Barr & Desler's Handbook of Student Affairs Administration (2000, p. 131) note that management of auxiliary budgets occupy nearly all (as much as 80%) of a chief student affairs fiscal responsibility; this underlines the complexity of this financial management and the potential conflict between the institution's responsibility for financial solvency and student development.