Penn's College House system: Creating community, competitive advantage, and a culture of scholarship at an Ivy League university

Amy Renee Johnson, University of Pennsylvania


Over the course of the last several decades, higher education has been targeted in both the national media and reports as long overdue for reform. Increasing costs, rapid technological advancements, a diverse, changing student population, and public demands for accountability are causing most colleges and universities to reevaluate their practices and assess how best to maintain—and, presumably, advance—their position in the new higher education marketplace. A case study of the University of Pennsylvania's College House system offers insights regarding how one research university sought to enhance connections between faculty and students, link students' living and learning experiences, and build campus community. The research employed a range of data sources, including interviews with the system creators and historians, College House staff and academics in residence, campus stakeholders and administrators, and faculty who are unaffiliated with the system. Other data sources included nine focus groups with students, a review of available historical and financial documents, and a review of newspapers and other public materials. The 31 interview subjects were selected to achieve a representative or typical sample of those involved in the development and implementation of Penn's campus-wide College House system. The 51 focus group subjects represented a range of College House residents. The research was designed to understand the process and goals that Penn set out to accomplish regarding its College House system—and to assess whether these goals have been met. It takes a holistic look at the market, campus community, financial, political, academic, and administrative impacts that have resulted from the system's development and implementation. The findings indicate that, since the creation of the College House system, demand for on-campus housing is high, but the financing has been insufficient to meet the program's goals. Finally, it is unclear whether the College Houses have enhanced faculty-student interaction on campus. Penn's story offers valuable findings that may guide best practices for higher education decision-makers and stakeholders in the future.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Amy Renee, "Penn's College House system: Creating community, competitive advantage, and a culture of scholarship at an Ivy League university" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3124691.