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Executive Summary

Rice University has identified the “Intellectual Development of Rice Undergraduates in Urban Houston” as the theme of its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), part of the university’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Rice views the QEP as an opportunity to develop and implement a carefully designed and focused course of action that will enhance student learning. This QEP represents a broad institutional commitment by the university to improve the undergraduate experience in a meaningful and measurable way.

Undergraduate education at Rice has long been distinguished by the rigor and intensity of its classroom work and a dedication to excellence in undergraduate research. While the value of undergraduate research is well-established and widely-understood1, there is a growing consensus in higher education that the benefits of research are enhanced when research intersects with real-world experience through service learning2 and community-based research.3 Indeed, the complex challenges facing our world will be solved by students who have such real-world experience: students who understand the potential and limits of knowledge they are given in the classroom; students who are capable of applying standard theories in nonstandard settings in search of creative solutions; students who can tackle open-ended and ambiguous problems that require original thought and analysis; and students who can effectively communicate what they have learned in their research to academic, professional, and lay audiences alike.

Rice’s QEP will prepare students to meet these challenges through structured civic engagement4 and community-based research and design focused on the city of Houston.5 The QEP will enhance student learning in the following specific and measurable ways:

Cognitive Learning Goals

  • Goal #1: Undergraduate students will acquire rigorous, discipline-specific inquiry skills.
  • Goal #2: Undergraduate students will be able to apply theories to, or construct models for, solving real-world problems.
  • Goal #3: Undergraduate students will acquire enhanced ability to interact with, and present their work effectively to, audiences beyond the academic community.

Experiential Learning Goals

  • Goal #4: Upon graduation, undergraduates will consider a vital connection to urban Houston to be a distinctive feature of their Rice education.
  • Goal #5: Undergraduates will better understand the roles that larger communities play in their education and life after graduation.

While enhancing student learning is the driving force and focus of Rice’s QEP, the Plan’s implementation will also advance the following institutional and community goals:

Community and Institutional Goals

  • Goal #6: Develop a culture of civic engagement across the Rice academic community.
  • Goal #7: Leverage Rice University’s intellectual capital for the benefit of our city, our local economy, and our quality of life.

These seven goals will be addressed, in varying degrees, through the QEP’s three components: (i) the Civic Experience Program, (ii) the Civic Inquiry Program, and (iii) the Center for Civic Engagement.


  1. “Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities,” The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998 (hereafter, The Boyer Report).
  2. Barbara Jacoby, ed. Service-Learning in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1996); Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles, Jr., Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1999); Dan W. Butin, ed. Service-Learning in Higher Education. New York: Palgrave (2005); Karen K. Oates and Lynn H. Leavitt, Service-Learning and Learning Communities: Tools for Integration and Assessment. Washington, D.C.: AACU (2003); E. Pascarella and P.T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (2005). Kerry Strand, Sam Marullo, Nick Cutforth, Randy Stoecker, and Patrick Donohue, Community-Based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (2003).
  3. Strand et al define community-based research (CBR) as “the systematic creation of knowledge for the purpose of addressing a community-identified need. Ideally, CBR is fully collaborative, with those in the community working with academics. . .at every stage of the research process. . . .” Strand, et al. (2003), p. 8. For the purposes of the QEP, Rice endorses the foundation of this definition, and QEP Courses will be required to include community partners in the identification and definition of research problems, development of research instruments, collection of data, and implementation of initiatives. See also Barbara Jacoby and Associates, Building Partnerships for Service-Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons (2003).
  4. As part of the development of the QEP, the Steering Committee relied on this statement from the Pew Foundation Charitable Trust:
    [Civic] engagement is accomplished by applying faculty and student intellectual capital to address community problems; by fostering the skills and attitudes that will enable undergraduates to lead lives of civic responsibility; and by cultivating an action-oriented approach in which higher education institutions work to improve local conditions. . . . Pew Partnership for Civic Change, “New Directions in Civic Engagement: University Avenue Meets Main Street,” 4 (2004).
  5. In this context, “research” is defined as an experience in which the student is asked to take on a challenge which is open-ended and ambiguous and requires original thought, critical analysis, and evaluating feedback on initial ideas. At Rice, where engineering and architecture are cornerstones of the university, problem-solving has long been connected to research through design experiences based on leading-edge knowledge.