A Brief History of Living & Learning in Community

—UCA’s Tradition of Engaged Learning

Some of the best ideas happen when folks talk to each other.  In 1980, Dr. Norbert Schedler and then president, Jeff Farris, were discussing what could be done to meet the needs of a growing student population with exceptional abilities. How about setting up a special program for gifted students? Various models were looked at, faculty input was asked for, and by 1982, the UCA Board of Trustees approved the idea.  The Honors College was born with 60 students, $600, and Dr. Schedler as its founding director.  Soon, Dr. Patricia Smith, interim dean of the Norbert Schedler Honors College, joined the work, as did many other faculty and staff.

The Honors College progressed for the next 13 years, growing in numbers, courses, and national prestige, when in 1995, Dean Sally A. Roden and then President Win Thompson were talking about all the students with exceptional abilities whose academic and social needs could not be met by the Honors College.  How about setting up a program for students of many talents? As a result of these discussions, a feasibility study, and faculty recommendation, Hughes Residential College (HRC) opened in AY 1997-98 as Arkansas’ first living & learning community with faculty-in-residence. An apartment was built and aquatic ecologist Dr. Mike Mathis (with his golden retriever, Kai) moved in.

That’s right, faculty members called academic directors, along with their families (and pets!) live among the students in the residential colleges. This allows them to get to know students both inside and outside of the classroom―at dinner, performances and social events, on the greens and in the courtyards, during service-learning and study abroad endeavors, while conducting undergraduate research, and in the lobbies, study spaces, and hallways of the residence hall. Each residential college also has another fifteen faculty associates who teach UCA Core classes exclusively for students in their associated program.

Of course, when an idea works, there is an ethical obligation to extend the same opportunities for engaged learning to others.  Consequently, not only did the Honors College continue to develop, but the University has since expanded our living & learning communities and remains the only institution in Arkansas to maintain a residential college system for almost 25 years. Indeed, the residential college program is now one of the most distinctive features of undergraduate education at UCA.

Today, the University of Central Arkansas has five residential colleges, each with its own character and theme. We have even added a commuter college program for our off-campus students. Our motto is Finis Origine Pendet —the end depends on the beginning. UCA’s Residential Colleges help students make a successful beginning by easing the academic and social transition from high school to university.

Living and learning in community generates success. Residential college students earn significantly higher GPAs and graduate at rates 10-12% higher than non-residential college students, and residential college students find their nook, their cranny, their niche, their place among a community of scholars. Learning community students develop close relationships with their peers, are intellectually inspired by student-centered faculty, and have the honor and opportunity to give back to their communities by guiding a new class of freshmen as upper-class mentors, resident assistants and learning assistants.

A sprig of lavender rises from an opened book.