Residential Colleges and Their Impact on Students’ Sense of Belonging
This capstone explores the structures and processes associated with incorporating a residential college model at Wake Forest University. The university is considering the model implementation as an opportunity to closely integrate on-campus academic and social experiences, increase student retention and overall satisfaction, provide a sense of belonging and foster stronger partnerships between students, faculty, and staff. The project aims to provide insights to the university, specifically around the conditions that support or challenge model implementation, program success indicators, and ways to incentivize stakeholders. We approached the study through the sociocultural learning lens, which suggests that human learning is a social process (Vygotsky, 1978). Students can provide and receive feedback from peers and faculty in this type of learning, which positively impacts their academic achievement and college persistence (Tinto, 1987; Vygotsky, 1978). The study employed a mixed-methods approach. We targeted eight U.S. universities with existing residential college models and interviewed them about their experiences. We surveyed Wake Forest faculty and students to understand their out-of-classroom interactions, commitments, and overall perception of the campus experience. Lastly, we conducted focus groups with Wake Forest’s full-time faculty to gauge the factors that can motivate or hinder their participation in the residential community. Our data analysis yielded the following findings: 1. A successful residential college model must be supported by key leaders in academic and student affairs. 2. Fostering out-of-classroom student-faculty interactions is an integral part of the residential college implementation. 3. WFU faculty already have other commitments that can leave them with insufficient time to engage in a residential model. 4. Stakeholders viewed models where students are automatically placed more favorably than models where students applied and competed for membership into the community. 5. Students' academic performance in residential colleges is an indicator of the model's success. Education and learning must be part of the model. 6. Students' sense of belonging in residential colleges is an essential indicator of the program's success. 7. Faculty are inconsistent concerning the factors that could motivate or inhibit their engagement in the residential college model.