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Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Educational Administration and Leadership

First Advisor

Norena Badway

First Committee Member

Lynn Beck

Second Committee Member

Dennis Brennan

Third Committee Member

Julie Sina


This study examined methods and practices utilized in planning residential learning communities at three large, state-funded, research-oriented universities. Much research has been conducted on the ability of residential learning communities to enhance student learning and retention but little research has been done on how these programs are initiated. This study focused on interviews with founders and initiators and archival documents from the Residential College at the University of Michigan, Freshman Interest Groups program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the Residential Freshman Interest Groups program at the University of Oregon. Rogers' organizational decision of innovations theory provided the conceptual framework for this qualitative study. This study found four critical elements for initiating residential learning communities: (1) the utilization of a representative planning committee (2) shared beliefs and faculty-faculty interaction, (3) campus champions with authority or expertise acknowledged by others (4) willingness among planning committee to adapt to changing circumstances. One unanticipated finding was the impetus for residential learning communities. While all three campuses sought to improve student connectedness, successful residential learning communities originated from fiscal concerns about underutilized campus housing as well as a desire to strengthen the rigor of undergraduate education. A second unanticipated finding was the relatively small role that institutional goals and missions played in initiating this innovation at the three sites. Initiators and founders of residential learning communities were less influenced by formal institutional mission statements than by an immediate fiscal or student development concern. Residential learning communities are one approach to integrating the resources of a large university with the intimacy of a small residential college. As large institutions strive to embrace academic as well as personal development for students, this research can guide campuses in effective planning.





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