Date of Award

Summer 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

Linda Bol

Committee Member

Cherng-Jyh Yen


One way students become engaged in their undergraduate experience is through place of residence. Factors associated with high academic performance suggest high levels of engagement in campus life. This study investigated the relationship between living arrangement and the academic performance of first-year, full-time undergraduate students. The researcher also considered age, gender, race/ethnicity, and key characteristics of student engagement as moderating factors in the relationship between living arrangement and the academic performance.

Students enrolled at a four-year, public research university located in Southeastern Virginia were utilized for this study. The final participant group consisted of 870 first-year, full-time students who participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in 2010 and indicated living arrangement as residential (dormitory or other campus housing) or commuter (residence within walking/driving distance of the institution). Grade Point Average (GPA) measured academic performance. Data related to the moderator variables were collected from the NSSE. Through a non-experimental, comparative design, a series of regression analyses were used to understand the relationship between living arrangement and academic performance and whether the aforementioned moderator variables moderated the relationship between living arrangement and academic performance.

The results revealed significant differences between residential and commuter students regarding academic performance; commuters demonstrated higher GPAs than residents. However, the effect size suggested this finding is inconclusive. With the exception of level of academic challenge, the results did not support moderator effects of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and the remaining characteristics of student engagement on the relationship. However, level of academic challenge demonstrated a moderator effect in the relationship between living arrangement and academic performance. The relationship between living arrangement and academic performance was stronger for both residential and commuter students as a result of level of academic challenge.

This research provided outcomes and implications that revealed how living arrangement and student engagement can influence academic performance. While the results of this study challenged the perception that commuter students have lower academic performance than residential students, this study also supported prior literature that suggests the amount of time and energy students and institutions invest in the college experience is related to students' academic success. However, regardless of living arrangement, it is important for faculty and administrators to work together to ensure the academic success of all students.


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