Evidence suggests that collaborations between academic affairs and student affairs can foster student success both inside and outside of the classroom. Residential learning communities (RLCs) are a popular avenue by which these two divisions can find collaborative opportunities to integrate students’ curricular and cocurricular experiences. Although this strategy can be rich in student success rewards, academic affairs, and student affairs face challenges as they work to overcome cultural and structural differences. One of these challenges may simply be the lack of a shared interpretation of collaboration. The purpose of this study is to arrive at a consensus definition of collaboration within the context of RLCs. We engaged RLC scholars and practitioners in a Delphi study to create a comprehensive definition for use in RLC program assessment and development resulting in the following definition: Collaboration between academic and student affairs is the continuous process of cultivating an interdependent relationship where each stakeholder is mutually committed to working toward the shared purpose of holistic student learning. This definition serves as a springboard for academic affairs and student affairs RLC collaborators to strive for continuous processes, interdependent relationships, and commitment to a shared purpose.


collaboration, student affairs, academic affairs, residential learning

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Margaret Leary is the Director of Institutional Research and Planning at the University of San Diego. At the time of this project, Dr. Leary served as the Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Programs in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of San Diego. Dr. Leary has published and presented on a variety of topics including, student affairs assessment, living-learning communities, and collaboration among student affairs and academic affairs. Dr. Leary earned a B.S. and M.S. from Villanova University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego. In addition to the University of San Diego, she has experience working in student affairs at Villanova University, University of the Pacific, and Dartmouth College. She can be contacted at margaretleary@sandiego.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/margaretleary/.

Tina Muller is passionate about exploring intersections between student life, classroom and career experiences; engaging students to “learn by doing.” When she is not developing learning communities, modernizing processes, or assessing initiatives as an educational consultant, you can find her researching innovative approaches. Her research interests include faculty and staff collaboration, curricular design, and strategies to enhance learning and bridge achievement gaps for underrepresented students. As a professional with 25 years of experience, she’s worked in university, newspaper and corporate communication settings in Washington, NY and California. Tina earned a M.Ed., Pacific Lutheran University, APC in Marketing, NYU and her B.A. in Communication. She can be reached at tcmarie44@gmail.com or www.linkedin.com/in/tinammuller/.

Samantha Kramer is the Director of Student Advocacy at University of Central Oklahoma. She holds a PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Oklahoma State University. She can be contacted at skramer3@uco.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/kramersamantha/.

John R. Sopper serves as the Faculty Program Chair for Grogan Residential College and Adjunct Associate Professor in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. As Faculty Program Chair, John oversees all curricular, co-curricular, faculty development, and administrative aspects of a residential learning community serving 180 first and second year undergraduates pursuing majors in the University’s professional schools. As an adjunct faculty member, John teaches courses in modern religious thought and social ethics, Islam, and religion and culture. John has served as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Co-Chair of the University’s 2014 Quality Enhancement Planning process. His current research interests include investigating students’ beliefs and attitudes about learning, student motivation, integrative learning, and understanding how “high impact” pedagogies work, especially for first generation students and students from underrepresented communities. John holds a BA from Brown University and an MA in Religious Studies from Princeton. He is currently working toward a PhD in Educational Leadership. He can be contacted at jrsopper@uncg.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/john-sopper-3323ba17/.

Dr. Richie Gebauer is the Assistant Dean for Retention and Student Success and the Faculty Director of the IMPACT (Leadership) Living and Learning Community at Cabrini University. He is a past president of the National Learning Community Association, has served as a resource faculty at the Washington Center at Evergreen State College, and has sat on various editorial review boards including the Journal of the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition (FYESIT), Learning Communities Research and Practice (LCRP), and e-Source for College Transitions. Dr. Gebauer has authored publications advancing research and practice as it pertains to learning communities, first-year seminars, academic and professional advising, and academic recovery programs. He earned a B.A. from Franklin and Marshall College, a M.Ed. from James Madison University, and an Ed.D. from Cabrini University. He can be contacted at rdg723@cabrini.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/richie-gebauer-ed-d-2b73ba11/.

Mary Ellen Wade is the Director of Student Affairs Assessment, Research, and Strategic Priorities at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. At the time of writing, she was the Associate Director of Messina at Loyola University Maryland. She earned her B.A. and M.A. from Rowan University and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Higher Education Leadership at Wilmington University. She can be contacted at mewade@umbc.edu or www.linkedin.com/in/mary-ellen-wade.


This project was supported by the 2017-2019 Research Seminar on Residential Learning Communities as a High-Impact Practice, a multi-institutional research initiative hosted by Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning (www.CenterForEngagedLearning.org).

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