When the University of Iowa began making plans for the Fall 2020 semester, students, faculty, and staff knew that this would be a semester like no other in the institution’s history. While many worked to redefine the classroom and research experiences, University Housing and Dining focused on the elements of living on campus. While many students were completing much of their coursework online, they still chose to live and dine on campus.
To assess the experiences of students living on campus, University Housing and Dining conducted a survey in October 2020, asking questions about various components of the residential housing and dining system. With a nearly 50% response rate, housing and dining staff were able to glean valuable insights about the students’ experiences and plan to improve processes and access to resources for the spring 2021 semester.
Overall findings and updated processes
One of the largest findings this year came when trying to understand students’ experiences in the residence halls this past fall. “We knew that COVID-19 was going to bring many challenges to students’ living experiences,” said Von Stange, assistant vice president for Student Life and senior director of University Housing and Dining. “One of those challenges would be community connection within the halls. With the majority of courses being offered online and many events being virtual (or taking place within social distancing guidelines), we were concerned some students might feel isolated.”
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, over 94% of survey respondents indicated that they felt welcome in the residence halls. Over 85% indicated that they were satisfied with their overall experience living in the halls. Over half of the respondents indicated that they had been able to meet others and feel like part of a community on campus. When it came to the campus experience, over 89% stated they would recommend living on campus to other students.
While the results were mostly positive, there were indications that some students felt isolated and were frustrated by guest limitations and mask requirements due to COVID-19. However, these students didn’t find University Housing and Dining at fault for these frustrations, and expressed appreciation and recognition of the staff’s hard work. To combat the reported social isolation, University Housing and Dining is making changes for the spring 2021 semester, such as adding academic resources in the residence halls and finding additional ways of involving resident assistants (RAs) to build more opportunities for connection.
University Housing and Dining will continue to survey students to gather valuable feedback from and improve processes and procedures. “While this year has been challenging, we are heartened that survey results tell us students were overall very appreciative of all the preparations made to keep them (and the campus community) healthy and connected this year,” said Stange.