New Collegium Project at TWU keeps commuter students coming back for more

Launched last September, the Collegium Project has increased the retention rate of participating first year commuter students by over 20 percent

Langley, British Colubmia—Though Don Miller, a first year Business student at Trinity Western University, commutes from his home in Port Moody, B.C., to attend classes at Trinity Western’s main campus in Langley, B.C., he has found another place on campus to call home. Miller is one of over 250 students who have been a part of TWU’s new Collegium Project, a program aimed at connecting commuter students to the University that has resulted in such a high retention rate of first year commuter students, other universities and institutions are taking notice.

The Collegium Project is housed in a new high-end facility, which is funded by Coca-Cola Bottling Canada, and is equipped with everything from computers and telephones to a kitchen island and lockers. Home to first year, transfer and fourth year commuter students, it gives those who live off-campus a place to call their own. Student leaders and faculty associates have helped to make it a space where student members can learn, grow and connect with one another.

“The student leaders, called collegium assistants, intentionally connect students with each other and help them feel that they’re not alone in their educational experience,” says Sheldon Loeppky, director of community life at TWU. “That whole community integration is what makes a difference.”

The facility has provided a place for Miller and other first year and transfer students who commute to Trinity Western to get a handle on university life. Through interaction with fourth year members of the collegium and faculty associates involved with the project, students just beginning their educational venture can gain advice on everything from what classes to take to where to sign up for clubs or intramural sports.

“The collegium was an instant community that I could connect with,” says Miller. “It gave me a place where I could belong.”

Sarah Pelz, a Human Kinetics major, is a seasoned fourth year student who has been able to lend a hand to first year students like Miller. A long-time commuter from Langley, B.C., she has valued the Collegium Project as a place to hang her hat and get to know students in other areas of study.

“Whether students are actors, musicians, athletes or science majors, we all find that we’re on the same page,” says Pelz. “It’s been great to have first year students in there because whether they feel connected to the university is going to determine if they come back.”

And it has. Usually, around 30 percent of first year commuter students do not return for their second semester of studies, a number that is consistent at most universities. But that number dropped to only 6.5 percent among first year students who were a part of the Collegium Project this year.

“Increased student retention by that much in one year says that students are getting resources they need to succeed at university,” says Loeppky.

These results have also caught the attention of administrators at other universities and institutions. TWU recently presented with Seattle University, whose own collegia have been a success, at a National Association of Student Personnel (NASPA) conference in Seattle, where over 70 university administrators were in attendance. Ken Kush, Ed.D., vice-president of student life at TWU will present on the collegium concept at an upcoming conference in New Orleans, by invitation of Noel-Levitz, a higher education consulting firm that has partnered with more than 1500 colleges and universities in Canada and the United States. And in Iowa this June, Loeppky will present to the Association of Christian Student Developers (ACSD).

Due to the success of the first Collegium Project, Trinity Western plans to build more. Beginning this fall, a new collegium will be opened to 250 more second and third year students. “We’ve started something good for first year students and want to carry that kind of qualitative student experience into the future for them,” says Loeppky.

It is a growing trend that Loeppky believes will keep Trinity Western’s commuters, who make up over 65 percent of the student population, connected to the university of 2850 students. “The Collegium Project is giving commuters an identity as a group,” says Loeppky. “It’s bringing them to the forefront of what this university is all about.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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