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tennessee technological university

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The walls separating a student's academic and residential worlds start tumbling down at Tennessee Tech University this fall.

That’s when TTU’s first two living and learning villages take shape. Such communities are a system designed to give students more supportive, small-college experiences within the context of a larger university.

The living and learning villages at TTU are envisioned as places for building lifelong social connections, developing richer engagement with areas of academic study, and providing students more ownership over the circumstances of their living and learning lives.

Each with about 150 students, these and future learning villages at TTU are being organized around themes. The first two learning village themes are service-leadership and the environment.

Paula Hinton, associate history professor, will lead the service-leadership community. Lenley Weathers, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will head the community focused on the environment.

“Basically, this puts faculty into the residence halls more than they are now, gives students more ownership over their living and learning arrangements than they had before, and provides more mentoring and tutoring in the residence halls,” TTU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jack Armistead said.

Eventually, virtually every student and many faculty members will belong to one of the villages. It will take four or five years to roll out the program to create a total of 10 or so learning villages. The concept has proven highly effective in improving student retention at other universities.

The living and learning villages concept is just one of several strategies TTU is using to achieve its goal to increase student retention by 8-10 percent. The current freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is 72 percent.

Armistead said several new and redesigned retention strategies are in play now to improve the rate.

“We’ve been hovering around this 72 percent figure for many, many years,” Armistead said. “I think an 8-10 percent improvement is a realistic goal for us within four or five years.”

Retention and graduation rates receive greater focus in Tennessee now that the state legislature has changed the funding formula for higher education. The funding formula used to focus primarily on fall enrollment. Going forward, the emphasis shifts to outcomes like student retention and graduation rates.

TTU already has among the highest retention and graduation rates of Tennessee Board of Regents four-year schools.

The university has committed to several other projects to transform and create retention efforts across campus. One that promises high impact is the planned learning commons.

By Fall Semester 2010, the TTU’s Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library’s main floor will be transformed into a learning commons, an area that could almost be described as the university’s living room: a place to study, snack, surf the Web, research and more.

It’s to be a space that works for both individual study and group study sessions. It’ll become a place for socializing and relaxation as well as for intense research and quiet reflection.

To complete the vision, TTU will hire a new Dean of Library and Learning Assistance. The new dean will manage the library and serve as the university’s senior partner for all efforts on campus now aimed at learning assistance.

“We’re doing an awful lot of things to try to promote retention campuswide, and we need to find the right formula to improve retention,” Armistead said.