Have We Reached The Tipping Point For Residential Curriculum Model Adoption?

My vantage point at a technology company gives me unique insights into the industry. Given the large number of schools we work with and interact with, we’re often able to begin to see trends before others in the field. One thing we have discussed is the increasing use of curricular models by departments of residence life and education. In particular, we have noticed an acceleration within the last two years. This left us wondering: Have we reached a tipping point for residential curriculum? Will curricular approaches be near universally adopted within the coming years?

In answering this, history can be our guide. The Residential Curriculum Institute has existed for a little over a decade and has continued to grow each year.  The most recent Institute included hundreds of participants, and within the last two years the Institute had to turn potential registrants away due to overwhelming demand. I have also noticed these trends in my day job. Within the last 2 years almost every school I interact with states that they either have a curriculum, or are in the beginning stages of creating one. The rise of curricular approaches is one of the reasons why we have enhanced our software with features and solutions designed specifically with curriculum in mind. Being on the innovative edge also means we are the only software company to design our software specifically for this approach.


Two theories that may help explain how this phenomenon has taken hold come from Everett Rogers and Mortin Grodzins, two theorists working in the 1960s. In 1962, Everett Rogers’ first put forward his theory on the “Diffusion of Innovations.” This theory, which draws from the fields of communications, sociology, and organizational studies, provides a model for how new ideas and products are adopted over time. Diffusion, or the spread of these new ideas and products, is influenced by social factors, as well as the benefits of the innovation itself, and the cultures of the organizations adopting the innovation.

The above bell curve comes for Rogers’ theory and provides an easy visual way of understanding this phenomenon. The Innovators are the individuals and schools first adopting the innovation. In terms of residential curriculum, these Innovators would likely be the schools present at the very first Residential Curriculum Institutes. Experimenting with this new approach required a lot of risk and openness to change, and these schools, although small in number, were integral to the curricular approach’s early development and growth.

As the Institute began to become more popular, the initial faculty set out to better define and hone the model. This included the introduction of the Ten Essential Elements, occurring around the time of the third Institute. By the fourth Institute, there were enough institutions experimenting with the model that the schedule began to include “showcase sessions”–highlighting the individual curricula on different campuses. This marked entry into the Early Adopters stage.


Fast forward to the most recent 10th and 11th Institutes in 2016 and 2017, and we’ve begun to notice a shift towards the Early Majority. You now find sessions on curriculum at almost all of the major professional associations. I have heard more from campuses interested in curriculum software and my educational and consulting services. And finally, the Residential Curriculum Institute is more popular than ever. This seems to indicate we may be reaching a tipping point.

The concept of a “tipping point” in sociology was first used by Morton Grodzins in the 1960s when he adapted its use from the physical sciences. A tipping point is an event or point in time at which an idea or phenomenon reaches a critical mass such that subsequent adoption or change occurs very rapidly. In 2006 Malcolm Gladwell brought this concept to a more popular audience in his work, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

So have we reached a tipping point? From our vantage point we have. The curricular approach is not longer a niche idea, but one that has gone mainstream. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Have We Reached The Tipping Point For Residential Curriculum Model Adoption?

  1. Do you have any recommendations for Schools with RC’s that have adapted it well into their RA Class?

    1. GREAT question. I have not come across specific content I could point you towards, although I’m sure it has been done. In thinking about it and what I’ve done in the past, I think rudimentary understanding of learning outcomes and developmental theory helps. Obviously the Gas won’t be engaging directly in heavy curricular planning, but their familiarity would help in ganging buy in and understating. I did this through training programs, but it fits even better within an RA class context. Thanks for this idea… I’m seeing a future blog post…

      1. thank you—we’re rolling out our RC this fall and of course, in my role as our RA Class Course Director I’ve been tasked with making sure that our RA Class content is matching up to the RC

        1. You might also use an activity where you have your RAs start by thinking about what they hope an “ideal graduate” (if there can be said to be such a thing) of your institution would learn by the time they leave. This gets them in the mind of thinking about student learning. Often times, what the RAs come up with just so happens to align with your curricular goals. They can begin to see the connections and realize a curriculum isn’t just something that is created out of thin air.

  2. I do believe that the adoption of the curricular model has reached a tipping point. I do however believe that at some campuses, implementation, and buy in, and staff comprehension, is still an issue. My hope is that as more schools move towards this model, buy in will be easier. I also believe that when folx are going through recruitment processes they should be aware of what a curriculum model entails or at least understand the basic tenets. I have also witnessed some aversion to the term curriculum, which of course is discussed at the actual institute. So, while yes folx are adopting, I think the above reasons have slowed down the implementation. Just my two cents?

    1. Lots if valid points here. I think you’ll like a post I have coming out next week about what it means to fully embrace curriculum and not just attached learning outcomes to current practice. Agreed on the language… “curriculum” can be a loaded term even if the process is sound.

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