NHTI, Concord’s Community College, Office of Residence Life is a featured program.
After a semester of outrageous damage bills, poor academic performance and feelings of defeat among the residence life staff, NHTI Residence Life department decided it was time for a change. A tremendous amount of time had been spent dealing with negative behaviors and low retention. It was hypothesized that if the residence hall students were given as much attention by the staff for exhibiting positive behaviors as the staff gave them for negative behavior, the results would be a different type of community. The staff looked at the types of behaviors that needed improvement and they choose the following qualities to focus on: academic performance, damage to the residence halls, personal interactions and engagement in the community. The school of thought adopted was that if attention was paid to students who exhibited positive behaviors related to these areas, a more positive community would emerge. In the spring of 2013, an extensive list of ideas was generated about how to go about this and the following was decided:
- Lynx Loot – Students would be given Lynx Loot over the course of the semester for attending programs, participating in hall council, and other good deeds as deemed by the staff. Lynx Loot can then be used by students who have collected it at an auction at the end of the semester to bid towards prizes. This event has become very popular and something that returning students talk about with new students when they arrive.
- A Resident of the Week award was established for the residents who have stood out the most among the building residents in terms of living the values of the community (studious, helpful, involved, role model). The recipient of this award receives Lynx Loot, a candy bar, their name on the Resident of the Week Bulletin Board and a certificate.
- Scholar Board – This is a dedicated place where good academic work is posted by students who are proud of their work. The first “Scholar Board” was done by a resident assistant who designed a big refrigerator on her bulletin board and encouraged her residents to post their good work on it. It was a hit!
- Life Saver Award – This award was designed to present to students who helped other students. When residence life staff “catch” a student lending a helping hand, offering academic assistance or providing a shoulder to cry on, the life saver award is presented. These awards are presented with a roll of Lifesavers candy attached.
- Smartie Pants – The Smartie Pants award was designed to present to students who are “caught” by ResLife staff for doing good academic work or practicing good study skills. This award is presented with a roll of Smarties attached at the belt line.
- Days Without Damage – This has been one of the most successful of NHTI’s positive community incentives programs. This program was modeled after OSHA’s Days without Injury boards. A bulletin board or other wall space is dedicated to keep track of the number of days a floor goes without incurring damage/community fines. At different milestones the floor is awarded for their lack of community damage. If the floor incurs community fines the count simply restarts. Milestones recognized are 14 days (ice cream social), 30 days (pizza social), 60 days (money allotted for floor to spend on something for the floor), 90 days (more money to spend on the floor); entire semester (even more money to spend!). Over the time the program has been in place, floors have achieved the following rewards: Ipod docking stations for their bathrooms, flat screen TVs for their floor lounges, supplies for a “nail night”social, etc.
There were other ideas brainstormed which either didn’t do well on the campus or were not selected. Two of those were Floor of the Month recognitions, and Mid-term success party (a fun, social event by invitation only for students who receive no Mid-term academic warnings).
The residence life staff was trained on these different recognitions and how to use them. They were taught about some on Michael Brandwein’s work on building best behavior to further understand how to get the best results from the different incentives. Brandwein talked about praise being most effective when it contains specific information to the students being praised. This kind of praise is credible, sticks with the student and provides cues for others to follow.
After two and a half years of using these programs, NHTI has found that incidents, damage and withdrawals have gone down significantly. In the fall of 2012, the Office of Residence Life documented 125 incidents. This spring semester (2015) only 48 incidents were documented. In the same fall 2012 semester, resident hall students were fine a total of $7679.00. Only $2512.00 was billed to resident students this past spring semester.
And, the number of programs that the RAs offer has gone up significantly. It is believed that having the RAs catch student being good is more fun and rewarding to them than catching students violating policy. Further, when there are fewer incidents RAs have more time to do the fun parts of their job…like programming.
Here is a table of the number of programs run by residence life since the fall of 2011 (from 48 to 187 programs!):
(1-Fall ’11, 2-Spr ’12, 3-Fall ’12, 4-Spr ’13, 5-Fall ’13, 6-Spr ’14, etc.)
To bring this program to your campus, define the behaviors that you want to see more in your community. If you are looking to promote certain qualities, identify behaviors which demonstrate that quality and then reward that behavior in a timely way and in a way that lets the student know specifically what behavior they are being recognized for. Incentives don’t need to have a high price ticket. Many of NHTI’s incentives were home grown and printed on office printers. Candy is attached by hand with double sided tape. But, if you have a big budget, you can develop more sophisticated and flashy incentives.
NHTI is pleased with these results. Over time, old positive incentives have been phased out with new ones to take their place. This keeps the program fresh both for staff and residents who are in the community for several years.
So, define your concern, develop your incentive to reward the behaviors you want to see, and reap the rewards. See the positive payoffs!
Submitted by Trish Godino Loring, Director of Residence Life, NHTI Concord’s Community College