Many large, comprehensive, prestigious research universities have instituted LLCs on their campuses, in part to provide a small-college atmosphere on a much larger campus. Because atmospheric, earth, and environmental science departments are frequently housed on such campuses and because so many students are unfamiliar with the scope and importance of careers in the earth and environmental sciences at this stage of their lives, practitioners in our disciplines have an important opportunity to introduce first-year undergraduates to our craft. The result would be an increase in the number of majors and in a college-educated population with an increased appreciation for the earth and environmental sciences. This research surveys the LLCs available at American universities that offer degree programs in the atmospheric, oceanic, and related sciences. An important distinction must be drawn between LLCs and learning communities (LCs); the latter do not require an on-campus living component and are therefore not included in this analysis.
The concept of LLCs is not new. As early as the thirteenth century, Oxford and Cambridge Universities set up LLCs in their purest form, emphasizing not only student learning but also personal development, character, and community service (Harmon 1998). It was actually the amalgamation of these small groups from which universities formed in Europe. Subsequently, as the German model of higher education diffused through parts of Europe with its emphasis on research and independent work, the LLC model lost momentum. Both the English and German models of higher education diffused to the United States, though the German model gained favor through most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the late 1950s Princeton had re-established the RC concept. By the 1980s, many of the nation's most prestigious universities had become established leaders in the RC renaissance, with programs firmly entrenched at Yale (1930s), Rice (1950s), California-Santa Cruz (1960s), California-San Diego (1970s), and the University of Miami (1980s). Meanwhile, the LLC concept had diffused elsewhere in countries in the British Empire, Germany, and the People's Republic of China, among other nations. Today, over half of the universities in the U.S. News and World Report's top 25 universities have LLCs or are planning them, while virtually none of the lowest-tier institutions have them. A recent study notes that even though a complete list of LLCs does not exist, one registry includes over 200 programs on 73 campuses (Inkelas et al. 2008).
Of the 80 U.S. universities that offer at least one Ph.D. program in atmospheric and closely related oceanic, hydrologic, and other sciences (as defined by the American Meteorological Society's website on 6/1/2011), 49 offer LLCs; 30 of these have at least one LLC that is focused on the natural sciences (Figure 1). Penn State University offers four natural science-themed LLCs (Earth and Mineral Sciences House, Earth House, EcoReps, and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). Texas Tech University also deserves mention for their three programs (College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; Men of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); and WISE).
Of the 23 U.S. universities with master's-level programs as the highest degree offered in atmospheric and closely related sciences, 14 offer LLCs. Four of these universities have natural-science based LLCs. Michigan State University's three science-based LLCs, including the 44-year-old Lyman Briggs College (LBC), the Residential Option for Science and Engineering Students (ROSES), and Residential Initiative for the Study of the Environment (RISE) lead the way.
Thirteen of the 28 universities that offer the bachelor's as the highest degree offered in the Atmospheric and closely related sciences offer LLCs. Of these, seven have natural science LLCs. The only university with more than one science-based LLC is Salisbury College, with two (Green Floor and STEM program).
In conclusion, many atmospheric, oceanic, and related science faculty work on university campuses where the infrastructure is already in place for LLCs. Some of these faculty need only participate in existing natural science-based LLCs to introduce students to what we do. Others could petition their university Student Life administrators to support new LLCs focused on the earth and environmental science. Regardless, improved partnerships between faculty in the atmospheric, oceanic, and related sciences, Academic Affairs units, and Student Life offices on our campuses can result in a greatly improved experience for our students in LLCs.
Harmon, William H. 1998. The emergence of the residential college: The academical village revisited, pp. 23-32. In Alexander, F. King and Don E. Robertson (Eds.). 1998. Residential colleges: Reforming American post-secondary education. Louisville, Kentucky: Oxford International Round Table. 263 pp.
Inkelas, Karen Kurotsuchi, Matthew Soldner, Susan D. Longerbeam, and Jeannie Brown Leonard. 2008. Differences in student outcomes by types of living-learning programs: The development of an empirical typology. Research in Higher Education 49:495-512.