Can Nightmare Roommates Hurt Your Chances of Graduating College?

by

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about roommate matching. A few days ago, Dr. Dalton
Conley wrote an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “When Roommates Were
Random
,” arguing that students should be randomly assigned to roommates. Dr. Conley was also
a guest on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” program dedicated to college roommate anecdotes that
aired August 31.

In his NYT piece, Dr. Conley argues that tech tools like our service, RoomSync, a Facebook app that allows students to choose their own roommates, decreases the randomness of life (referred to as “serendipity”). He believes students should be randomly matched since a new experience, whether good or bad, provides vital character building that eventually gives that first-year student exposure to new and different ideas. But what if that student who is assigned an incompatible roommate never makes it past his/her first semester?

I spoke with Seth Odell, the founder of HigherEdLive, who explained this dilemma and noted the author’s failure to address the other side of the roommate matching story. Said Seth:

“It appears from the writer’s article that he believes the hypothesized benefits of random roommate matching outweigh any potential conflict that could arise from pairing two students with drastically different habits or lifestyles. As he says regarding students in difficult situations, “You’ll survive.” To that I say, ‘Dr. Conley, they may survive, but they won’t all graduate.’”

Studies have shown, most recently by Michigan State University, that roommate conflicts are one
of the top five reasons students drop out of college. And that is where Dr. Conley’s argument is
fatally flawed. Roommate matching is not about an institution’s efforts or obligation to force-feed
cross-cultural experience. Roommate matching is about providing students a healthy and
supportive environment to pursue their education, and allowing them to own the experience for
themselves.

Higheredlive.com recently reported how The University of Florida switched from random
matching to RoomSync, with intention of empowering students to choose their own roommates.
The university found that 65% of hall staff reported reduced roommate conflicts and 48% of hall
staff reported reduced severity in conflicts when they did occur. This first year of data suggests
that roommate self-selection is reducing roommate conflicts, which according to the MSU study,
contributes to more college graduates.

Does choosing one’s own roommate equal a non-diverse college experience? We don’t think so.
In fact, some of our users only want commonality in preferred bedtime, neatness levels and other
lifestyle preferences. Otherwise, they are open to, and even look for, roommates with
backgrounds different than their own. If their roommate has similar study habits, it will allow them
to more easily get their academic work done, freeing them to enjoy all the other experiences
college offers.

Where’s the balancing point between the spontaneous element of college due to random
roommate matching and higher graduation rates?

In the end, we think it’s the students who are most important. We will continue to hone our
service to help them find compatible roommates, giving them a leg up in their academic pursuits.

About the Author
Robert Castellucci is co-founder and vice president of marketing at RoomSync. Follow him on Twitter @RobJCast.
(Photo Credit)

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  • http://www.brandoncroke.com Brandon Croke

    Thanks for sharing this Rob. Although I think the nytimes piece was a nice thought, in my opinion if you look at the whole institution of college it is a place where you go to be around “similar people”. 

    Aren’t Ivy League students missing out on diversity by only hanging around the most elite of intelligences and backgrounds? Aren’t southern colleges missing out on Northern culture and vice versa? I totally agree college students should be exposed to a diverse group of people, but I think picking on roommate matching is just a tiny sliver of the diversity pie. 

    Let’s focus on pro-active steps like advocating study abroad programs, volunteering in lower-income communities and getting involved with international students on campus (as I did) instead of demanding all roommates must be entirely random. Michael Staton also wrote a response on our blog which you can see here – http://blog.inigral.com/does-social-media-reduce-student-diversity/

  • http://twitter.com/KathyLisiewicz Kathy Lisiewicz

    My college roommates and I were just different enough to learn from each other. The only truly random placement, though, was my freshman year roommate. For me it was a good experience.

    I know other people, though, who had extremely bad experiences–and these were good people, not people looking to initiate confrontations or be disrespectful of those around them. Their college lives were much harder, and in at least one case, I know of someone who transferred to a different university because of her roommate problems.

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