The Ernest L. Boyer Laboratory for Learning: A Model of Effective Faculty Involvement in Residential Programming

By McDonald, William M.; Brown, Cathy E. et al. | College Student Affairs Journal, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

The Ernest L. Boyer Laboratory for Learning: A Model of Effective Faculty Involvement in Residential Programming


McDonald, William M., Brown, Cathy E., Littleton, Robert A., College Student Affairs Journal


During 1992, Carson-Newman College established the Laboratory for Learning, a model of the residential college that can be replicated at small institutions. A team of faculty, students and staff in each of the college's five residence halls implemented programming designed to focus students' attention on issues related to life and academics. By engaging in cocurricular activities that bring academic subjects to life, students have received the benefit of being involved with faculty and administrators in educational experiences outside the classroom.

In College: The Undergraduate Experience, Ernest L. Boyer (1987) states that our "system of higher education with its openness, diversity, and scholarly achievement, is the envy of the world. Unencumbered by suffocating ideology, the vitality and integrity of the American college and university are unmatched" (p. 2). Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) agree and recognize that a special relationship exists between our nation and its colleges and universities. The relationship involves not only financial support, but also espoused virtues of loyalty, faithfulness, and love for one's alma mater. They state "that a social institution can engender such fervent and magnanimous support attests to the generally high regard in which Americans hold post-secondary institutions in this country. And, indeed, we do often expect our colleges and universities to accomplish great things" (p. 1).

However, in 1990, the Carnegie Foundation published Campus Life: In Search of Community, a special report that addressed an increasing concern for the declining state of campus community (Boyer). Specifically, the presidents of colleges and universities were surveyed as to the major dilemmas they faced on their campuses. Cited examples included inappropriate student behavior, competing institutional interests, ideologies and purposes, as well as an increasing transient student population. All of the problems were considered barriers that compartmentalized the curricular and co-curricular programs of the college.

The current state of campus transience and compartmentalization had been forecast for many years prior to the Carnegie Foundation (Boyer, 1990) work. More than 30 years ago, Vance Packard (1972) in his book A Nation of Strangers, stated the collegiate experience had turned students into transients. This allegation is easily affirmed. During recent decades, many colleges relaxed residential requirements because they had experienced rapid growth without having adequate residential facilities. For example, during the decade from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, many large, public universities implemented a lottery registration system that allowed only a small percentage of returning upper-class students access to the residence halls. This procedure ensured adequate space would be available for large classes of incoming students; however, it often placed undo stress on second year students that desired to reside on campus. Small, private colleges, normally dependent on student tuition revenues, were not exempt from implementing similar practices. Residence hall rooms were often overbooked for extended periods of time, which led to higher student attrition rates.

Other institutional policies designed to protect the shared campus experiences of the past, such as weekly convocations, have either decreased or discontinued altogether. Additionally, colleges have been accused of bowing to constituent pressure for becoming institutions of credentials as opposed to higher learning, particularly in the case of student athletes, which has resulted in some highly publicized allegations of misconduct.

Finally, changing student characteristics and expectations may have made it difficult for some students to become active members of the institution. Levine (1993) points out that during the past twenty years, the percentage of nontraditional students has increased significantly and their expectations are changing the student's relationship with his or her institution. …

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