Book cover for The Faculty Factor: Developing Faculty Engagement with Living Learning Communities
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One of the first tasks of our Residential Campus Committee was to develop a clear and cogent institutional vision to drive the residential campus and engage a broad range of stakeholders. While research has demonstrated for decades that students who live and learn together achieve greater student success in terms of graduation rates, employment, and lifelong networks (Astin, 1993, 1996; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005; Schudde, 2011), each institution must articulate its own unique strategic “why” or common purpose (e.g., to increase retention, to foster belonging, to support equity and inclusion, or to reinforce classroom learning) before it can map out a holistic and systematic residential campus effort. The full campus community must engage in an institution-wide discussion regarding many of the items on the Residential Campus Plan (RCP), including reviews of the residential climate, the structures supporting the intersection of living and learning on campus, and the programs and experiences impacting the intellectual and personal development of students. Despite the fact that every institution has its own unique starting point, all colleges and universities can articulate a vision for how living on campus will deliver on the promise of the mission and values of the university.

Like any good strategic planning process, articulating a residential campus vision directly linked to campus mission and values requires a process that includes all stakeholders, communicates the vision and plan widely, and involves the entire community in implementation. For this vision to be meaningful, it must be an integral aspect of institutional planning, including resting within annual priorities and the overall strategic plan. To be successful, the process, as Kezar (2014) explains in How Colleges Change, requires the involvement of stakeholders, open communication across the institution, building and communicating a vision—all in service to student learning and development. Goodsell Love (2004) favors a broader institutional approach and argues for the importance of aligning learning community and residential campus goals with institutional mission and values in order to create a campus culture that values and supports this work from idea formation through assessment. Stated another way, an essential step in building a broader campus culture requires a clear understanding that at the heart of residential campus work is the goal of connecting every aspect of student living and learning with every aspect of institutional mission and values (Zhao & Kuh, 2004). Relying on best practices in higher education strategic planning will ensure residential campus plans include metrics for measuring success, campus partners to involve, budgets required, facilities needed, staffing and programs to drive action, and campus assets that may be leveraged to deliver strategic outcomes (Mathew et al., 2020).

Aligning Residential Learning with Higher Education Goals

University of Notre Dame professor William Roche (2017) explained that defining a transformational vision, such as a new residential campus vision, is inherently intertwined with the motivation to take on transformative strategies of higher education. Designing a new core curriculum, launching a new campus, and changing the foundational ways in which students live and learn all fall into this category of Herculean transformation. Faculty and staff leaders must understand the institutional scale and importance of this work, including the crucial need for administrative and trustee buy-in and support often needed to move institutions forward. In other words, to transform the institution, all members of campus must understand, see themselves within, and buy into the vision. Leaders will need to present this vision at every opportunity in writing, presentations, and on web sites to ensure that all participants (students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and trustees) fully understand the vision and their role in achieving it (Bok, 2017). Everyone from Physical Plant to Admissions to prospective students and parents can and should be included. Therefore, residential campus leaders will have to spend time assessing campus communication and buy-in among students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, parents, and trustees. See supplemental resources      “Engaging Faculty in Building a Residential Vision” and “On-Boarding the Campus with the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ for the Residential Campus Vision” for ideas regarding on-boarding and connecting a broad range of campus constituents to campus plans and programs.

As the RCP suggests, a campus vision is not merely a by-product of student living spaces. What truly drives a residential vision is the programs, connections, experiences, faculty, and staff that reside in those spaces and how each of those assets deliver on the greater vision for learning. Because today’s pressures on higher education require that leaders connect every aspect of the student experience with institutional values, planning, and learning outcomes, we found it helpful to educate students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and trustees on the significant body of research that has emphasized the need for institutions of higher education to invest in this effort (see the “On-Boarding Campus with the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of the Residential Campus Vision” supplemental resource for suggestions).

The message here, of course, is that while developing a vision is important, embedding this work within the larger strategic efforts of the institution is essential. As we began engaging a range of stakeholders in this process in 2009 at Elon University, we realized it was the first time that faculty and staff joined with senior leaders to connect the dots between the living and learning environment and our larger aspirations for the next decade. We started with a simple approach during one-on-one and campus-wide communications and discussions. Those conversations gained a much broader audience and greater purpose when we embedded the residential campus initiative within the larger effort to develop the university’s ten-year strategic plan in 2010.

Within this context, university faculty and staff articulated a vision for residential living. Defining this vision together led to effectively planning living spaces and programs to produce desired learning outcomes. These residential campus outcomes connected to the overarching university vision of student success, thus connecting the strategic efforts of the institution with the development of the residential campus. This clear understanding of the linkage between living, learning, and mission undergirds and makes possible residential campus initiatives, and must precede construction of collaborative campus teams or even faculty-staff recruitment and development or attempts to define learning outcomes. Without this foundational vision, living-learning programs will remain a low priority, or worse an afterthought left to chance.

References

Astin, A. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Astin, A. (1996). Involvement in learning revisited: Lessons we have learned. Journal of College Student Development, 37, 123-134.

Bok, D. (2017). The struggle to reform our colleges. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Goodsell Love, A. (2004). A campus culture for sustaining learning communities. In J. Levine Laufgraben & N. Shapiro (Eds.), Sustaining and improving learning communities, pp. 14-30. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A.J. (2014). How colleges change: Understanding, leading, and enacting change. New York, New York: Routledge.

Mathew, R., Bonilla-Martin, E, Santana, D, & Gonzalez, E. (2020). Untangling the history and processes strategic planning. Planning for Higher Education Journal, 48(4), 25-40.

Pascarella, E.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Roche, W. (2017). Realizing the distinctive university. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press.

Schudde, L.T. (2011). The causal effect of campus residency on college student retention. The Review of Higher Education, 34(4), 581-610.

Zhao, C., & Kuh, G. (2004). Adding value: Learning communities and student engagement. Research in Higher Education, 45(2), 115-138.