Poll finds friends matter most

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Enthusiastic masters, cozy libraries and open fire doors can enhance the residential college experience, but not all components of residential colleges contribute significantly to overall satisfaction.

In a Yale Daily News poll sent last week to 5,183 undergraduates, in which 1,613 respondents ranked their satisfaction with various aspects of their residential college experience, students revealed that approval of fellow students had the highest correlation with residential college satisfaction, followed by satisfaction with housing quality, the college courtyard and college spirit. Although gyms and “other basement facilities” received the lowest ratings averaged across all colleges, they were not strongly related to respondents’ overall residential college satisfaction.

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Since beginning renovations of each of the 12 colleges in 1998, the University has poured more than half a billion dollars into improving college facilities. The survey results provide clues to which improvements make students the happiest and which do not correlate as highly to overall residential college satisfaction. But in the end, the survey reveals that the most important factor —student satisfaction with their residential college peers — cannot be bought.

“I think the strongest feature of our residential college system is the very strong sense of community that the colleges foster,” University President Richard Levin said. “The survey bears this out in an indirect way when students indicate that the most important factor in satisfaction is other students. If there weren’t a strong sense of community, that wouldn’t be the case.”

Respondents’ ratings of their college basement facilities, butteries and gyms all roughly corresponded with the timing of their renovation — with more recent colleges ranking their basements much higher than less recently renovated colleges and Ezra Stiles College, the one college that has yet to be renovated.

For instance, students in Berkeley College, which kicked off its renovations in 1998, rated their gym 5.15 out of 10 possible points, above only Branford College, which was renovated one year later. Calhoun College’s gym, renovated last year, received a 7.51.

Levin said the more recently renovated colleges likely received higher ratings because administrators could evaluate previous renovations and improve on them with each new project.

“As we proceeded through the sequence, we learned things,” Levin said. “What is in the basements of Pierson, Davenport, [Jonathan Edwards] and Silliman is more extensive and elaborate than in the first colleges we renovated.”

Still, students in Branford and Berkeley, the first two colleges to be renovated, should not expect a significant upgrade in their basement facilities anytime soon. Levin said college renovations should be undertaken on a 30- to 40-year cycle, though small changes could be undertaken after 20 years.

Berkeley student Katherine Woodfield ’10 suggested that the expansiveness of Payne Whitney Gymnasium and other common spaces diminish the importance of basement amenities.

“It’s not that the facilities are so sub-par that nobody is satisfied with them,” she said. “It’s that people are more likely to hang out outside of the colleges than in the basements.”

Richard Schottenfeld, master of Davenport College, said the people, not the facilities, make the residential college experience special, a claim the survey findings support. But facilities such as basements do provide space for bonds to form between those people, he added.

“They foster a lot of interactions and opportunities to see and get to know fellow students,” he said.

Andrew Macklis ’13 of Saybrook College, which received the highest ratings for satisfaction with fellow students, said he is not surprised that quality of peers had the greatest effect on overall satisfaction.

“Making great friends and having lots of fun really create lasting positive memories about one’s college,” he said, adding that Saybrook holds many mixers that allow students to meet other Saybrugians and generate a vibrant social atmosphere.

Provost Peter Salovey said this focus on students means satisfaction with the residential college is more dependent on chance than any permanent differences between the facilities or staff of each college. This could mean that, if undertaken four years from now, the survey results could report completely different ratings. Levin added, though, that although students are selected for their college at random, residential college masters and deans can help foster a stronger community, which will lead to a stronger evaluation of one’s college. Permanent factors such as basement facilities, he said, can still have some bearing on students evaluation of their college.

Timothy Dwight College attained the highest spirit ratings, which Master Robert Thompson attributed to “the tradition of hard-hitting women and hard-hitting guys who are afraid of nothing and eager to display their prowess in everything.”

Responses to the survey showed that spirit ratings were significantly correlated with the intramural sports Tyng Cup standings.

“College spirit is central to IM participation — if people aren’t excited about their college, why would they go out and play?” said Christina Marmol ’12, an IM secretary for Jonathan Edwards College, which currently sits atop the Tyng Cup standings and received the second-highest spirit ratings.

Though Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges gave their basement facilities the lowest ratings of the 12 colleges, they can expect a boost in basement quality: The newly renovated Morse is slated to open next fall, at which time Ezra Stiles will undergo a renovation.

Nora Caplan-Bricker and Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

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