Evidence suggests that a carefully planned and executed first year undergraduate experience builds a foundation for a student’s personal and academic success. Establishing basic academic, personal, institutional and community skills, the first-year experience helps the student transition into more mature models of thought, behavior and functioning both in the classroom and in the community at large. For University of Colorado Boulder students, Residential Academic Programs (RAPs) play an important role as one component of this experience. RAPs provide an immersive learning experience, educating through focused missions, community populated courses, and co-curricular experiences designed to educate experientially, individually and collectively.
In 2013, the RAPs underwent their first Academic Review and Planning Advisory Committee (ARPAC) process, evaluating their visions, identities and goals for the future. Via the ARPAC process, both internal and external reviewers highlighted a series of areas for consideration to improve the overall RAP experience. Amongst its recommendations, reviewers advised that a task force be convened to, “explore the future of RAPs and alternative first-year experiences.”
In response to this recommendation, the RAP Task Force (Task Force) was established on October 21, 2016. The Task Force comprised a range of representatives, encompassing all concerned constituencies. The Task Force was given a broad charge to look at the specific recommendations included in the Final Report. The Task Force subsequently divided the language of the charge into five overall points as follows:
- Administrative Structure – Examine the administrative structure of the RAPs for the purpose of achieving
- Standardized personnel policies, new approaches to funding, and streamlined course approval procedures
- Stronger connections between RAPs and relevant academic departments and colleges/schools
- Better coordination between Academic Affairs and Students Affairs, with a particular emphasis on the interface between RAPs and Housing.
- Financial Structure - Examine and make recommendations regarding the sources and uses of all funds for the RAPS, individually and collectively. Implement consistent budget procedures across the RAPs, including cost projections.
- Governing Structure (purpose) - Consider creating standardized guidelines for RAPs including
- Policies and procedures, guidelines for handling crises, and expectations for RAPs in general
- Governing documents including vision and mission statements
- Bylaws and standards that define RAP programs
- Description of the roles of faculty and staff.
- Assessment Processes - Examine and make recommendations regarding efficiency and effectiveness of RAPs, individually and collectively, in improving the student experience and determine whether alternative programs or policies may provide better student support. The language in the points is extracted directly from the ARPAC Final Report and the Charge to the Task Force.
- Equity and Access – Examine the issues surrounding diversity, equity, and access by all students to first-year programs (program equity) as well as access to housing locations (space equity).
Based on this charge, the Task Force began with research. Meeting on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, the Task Force studied the RAPs themselves – their current visions, operating models, outcomes – as well as their histories. This research was accomplished by combing through the 500+ pages of ARPAC materials (original RAP self-studies, the Internal and External Review Reports, the ARPAC Final Report, and subsequent responses by the RAPs), coupled with historical information (processes under which the RAP program was initiated, expanded, and has subsequently been operating).
This research allowed for significant discussion on each of the aforementioned focus areas. The intent of the Task Force was to research, dissect and understand each individual area of concern and then, once fully acquainted with the issues at stake, endeavor to address each within the context of enhancing and supporting the first-year experience.
Once this context was developed, the committee divided into three subgroups to address the Purpose of RAPs, the Administrative Structure, and the Financial Structure. The Task Force reviewed the subgroup recommendations and then hosted a series of fora to obtain additional feedback on these areas from RAP Directors, the Boulder Faculty Assembly, the Arts & Sciences Council, finance staff, as well as individuals in open fora.
Finally, the Task Force reconvened to consider and incorporate recommendations as well as to address the broader issues of personnel and alternative programs. The following sections present the results of the Task Force discussions in the context of this overall process. Finally, an overall set of recommendations is provided as advisory recommendations for consideration by an implementation committee which should be convened as soon as possible.
The RAP Task Force makes the following recommendations to the Provost in response to the letter charging this committee to action. Should the Provost choose to accept, modify, and implement any of these recommendations, it is the committee’s expectation that there be an implementation phase and appropriate collaboration between relevant units. Additionally, given the constraints related to enrollment, space, and academic management, it is unlikely that any major changes should occur during the 2017-2018 academic year.
- Establishment of Collaborative Administrative Oversight: The Provost should consider establishing a collaborative structure, including a First-Year Experience Coordinator that serves as the academic representative for the first-year experience.
- Establishment of Collaborative Financial Processes – The Provost should consider fully implementing financial processes that are transparent, traceable, and equitable for all RAPs and collaboratively overseen by appropriate units and a central administrative office.
- Development of Mission, Goals, and Learning Objectives – The RAPs should individually and collectively establish a mission, set of goals, and learning objectives.
- Development of Standard Governance – The RAPs, in collaboration with appropriate campus units, should consider, for appropriate personnel, standardized hiring, evaluation, job expectations, and reporting structures.
- Development of Common Assessment – A common set of learning objectives should be developed on which a common assessment can be developed.
- Access and Equity: The campus, including colleges/schools, RAPs, Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost, should consider a collaborative effort to move to an alternate allocation of RAP and housing space, including removing financial, time, and space barriers.
- Instruction: The RAPs, working with appropriate units, should establish formal affiliation between all instructors and faculty teaching in the RAPs and cognate departments.
- Space Governance: The Provost should explore how the RAPs could retain control of classroom spaces within their buildings to facilitate community building and a sense of place.
- First-Year Participation – The Provost, working with relevant academic and administrative units, should develop a date by which all first-year students have a menu of structured firstyear experiences from which to choose.