Research Shows 25% of Students Experience College Roommate Problems

Research Shows 25% of Students Experience College Roommate Problems

Published on October 19th, 2016
By Jennifer Oppriecht

A study from Boise State ScholarWorks revealed that 25% of students reported college roommate problems. These findings and other studies reveal college roommate problems can cause stress that may ultimately hinder college success.

It’s a funny thing about research. Often when you see the findings of a research report, you’ll think, “Well that’s obvious.”

That was our initial reaction to the research we’ll be highlighting in this post. Because we’ve managed student residential halls for decades, we’ve seen first-hand how big of a problem roommate issues are.

But seeing the scope of the problem quantified definitely makes you think about roommate problems in a whole new light.

The 25% Problem and Other Findings

Please note that we’re presenting a wide range of research in this post, and some of it dates back to 2004. But we still believe the findings are relevant.

We’ve made technological advancements, but we still behave just the way our parents did, and their parents did, and so on, and so on. That’s why we think this research is just as relevant today as it was the year it was reported.

Let’s start with the big number: A survey conducted in the fall of 2008 by Boise State found that around 25 percent of students reported roommate issues in the preceding month, with females more likely to report experiencing a problem than males.

25% of Students Have Roommate Issues

Now let’s also consider that eye-popping stat some conclusions from other academic studies:

  • “It has been shown that a student’s relationship with his/her roommate has a significant impact on the student’s college experience, particularly for first year students.” Knapp, Marek & Wanzer, 2004
  • “Research indicates poor relationships with roommates are responsible for dissatisfaction with school and lower GPA.” Duran and Zakahi, 1988.
  • “Stress is known to have a deleterious effects on student success.” Friedlander, Reid, Shupak & Cribble, 2007
Just How Much Can a Conflict Impact Your School Success?

Ok, we know academic researchers will have have fits if we string all this data together, but when you consider those findings, it’s hard not tie it in with this number:

According to the US News and World Report, “30% of college and university students drop out after their first year.”

That’s huge. But is there a relationship between all this data? Does a roommate problem cause a student to drop out of school?

You can’t draw that conclusion from the data, but you can make the case that it contributes to stress, and stress is a big impediment for success.

The corrective action is then clear, right? Reduce roommate conflict, and you improve chance for success. That’s easier said than done, especially for college freshmen and sophomores.

Conflict Resolution: Why Freshmen and Sophomores Can’t Go it Alone

Continuing through the academic papers, we found this interesting tidbit called the Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project. In this article on their research, they pointed out the struggles freshmen and sophomores had dealing with conflict:

“They could not manage aggressive emotions autonomously; they were still developing interpersonal skills of empathy, assertiveness and negotiation.”

You need those skills to resolve conflict, and many freshmen and sophomores are lacking in those areas. Here’s research done by Robert Rodgers of Ohio State University in 1983 that shows how students deal with roommate conflicts:

Behavior & Outcomes in Roommate Conflicts

Rodgers research continued by tracking success results when Residence Assistants, trained in conflict resolutions, intervened. “Rodgers reports that control or resolution of roommate conflicts was achieved in 67% of the cases using mediation, compared to 25% for a comparison group using regular methods.”

Tips for Reducing Roommate Conflict Resolution

Based on this rather unofficial review of the existing data, and coupled with our own extensive experience in providing residential housing to college freshmen and sophomores, here is our list of what to do when resolving conflict.

1. Understand how YOU resolve conflict

We want to resolve conflict on our own first and foremost.  That can be done, but only if you and your roommate are aware of how you deal with conflict.

For example, people who avoid confrontation will only deal with conflict in a controlled environment, usually with a mediator present.  Someone who is more confrontational can’t be argued with: Instead, frame resolution as a win-win situation.

To identify how you resolve conflict, download the Roomies Reunited Guide. It has a scoring-system to help you self-evaluate.

2. Do not go it alone

Knowing your own conflict resolution style is a great first step. But many people, especially freshmen and sophomores, need a little extra help.

As the studies indicated, the chances of resolving conflict nearly triple when some sort of mediation is used. That number will be influenced by the effectiveness of your mediator, but it’s definitely the direction you want to take it.

3. Know what causes conflict

Understanding the most common causes for conflict can help you address them before you enter the roommate relationships. Typical issues include:

  • Money (rent)
  • Allocation of space
  • Messiness
  • Sharing items

For the complete list, click here.

4. Deal with the problems upfront

Knowing your own conflict-resolution style and the type of issues that prompt roomie problems should enable you to be proactive.

Don’t wait until problems occur. Set up guidelines beforehand. How will you handle food sharing? How will you deal with paying the rent (if you’re on a shared lease)?  Go through the list of conflicts and talk about the issues while you’re calm, not when there’s a problem.

It’s ideal if these issues are handled before you even move in. Heck, you may want to take a swing at them (a figurative, not a literal swing) BEFORE you even sign the lease. Best to see there will be a problem before anyone signs the bottom line.

5. Keep talking – but only face-to-face (No subtweeting! EVER!)

The lines of communication must stay open, as we’ve noted in this post.  Good listening skills and a good attitude are paramount to solving a problem.

Do NOT try to solve an issue using text, subtweet (social media) or email. People get overly bold, aggressive and downright mean when they don’t have to deal with a person face-to-face.

Try to Solve Issues Face-to-Face

Even if the best-intended messages can be misconstrued when you’re dealing with sensitive topics. Keep talking, but keep it face-to-face. Check out this recent subtweeting nightmare as proof of what happens when you don’t.

Can Resolving Roommie Conflicts Improve the Economy? Heck Yeah!

The research findings in this post give us a sense of the magnitude of the problem. We’re going to leave you with one last piece of research that shows why this is an important issue.

Education drives our economy, and we need an educated workforce now, more than ever. After all, as noted in this piece in the Huffington Post, “Unemployment for college graduates is about 4 percent, compared with about 9 percent for those with only high-school educations.”

Resolving roommate problems will reduce the stress level of our students, and improve their chances of college success. So forgive us if we’ve connected the dots here in a less than statistically valid way.

It’s just that addressing roommate conflicts is an important issue, and with greater awareness and more cooperation, we can make a difference.


Conflict in Residence Halls: A Preliminary Study of the Efficacy of Roommate Negotiations to Reduce Roommate Conflict

Roommate Rants: Understanding Roommate Conflicts Among MSU Students

How to stop fighting with your roomie

Download Roommates Reunited: A Guide to Resolving Conflict
Get the guide

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