History & Publications

The Washington Center was established in 1985 by Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor with support from the Ford Foundation and the Exxon Foundation. In 1987 the Washington Center obtained ongoing funding from the state Legislature, with a mandate to work with two- and four-year institutions to improve the quality of undergraduate education. In its first years, Washington Center worked in collaboration with colleagues from the state’s higher education community to foster highly effective, low-cost curricular improvements through faculty development, mainly focused on learning communities.

By the 1990s, state-wide initiatives included a three-year cultural pluralism project, funded by the Ford Foundation, and a project focused on calculus reform, funded through a National Science Foundation grant. In 1996, a three-year Learning Communities Dissemination Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, provided support to participating campuses as they developed, strengthened, and evaluated their learning community programs.

From 2000 to 2003, The Pew Charitable Trusts funded The National Learning Communities Project, which extended the work to more college and university campuses while establishing regional communities of practice. This project brought together learning community practitioners from across the country, shaping the identity of an emerging national movement and field. In 2004, Washington Center became the National Resource Center for Learning Communities, providing resources and support to two- and four-year institutions throughout the United States and beyond its borders.

Washington Center led the national project for Assessing Learning in Learning Communities, and has developed widely-used tools for learning community practice including a heuristic for designing integrative assignments (PDF) and the Online Survey of Students’ Experiences of Learning in Learning Communities.

Historical documents

The Rationale for Learning Communities (PDF) This speech was given by Patrick Hill, Academic Vice President at The Evergreen State College on October 22, 1985, at the Washington Center's Inaugural Conference on Learning Communities.

Fall 1987 Newsletter (PDF) This newsletter describes the work that of Washington Center during its founding years. It includes a letter from then-Governor Booth Gardner on the enactment of the Washington Center as a public service center during the 1987 legislative session.

Readers may also be interested in reviewing other newsletters from the Center's first 20 years.

Research & Readings

Journal of Learning Communities Research. Vol. 3., No. 3. December 2008/January 2009.

This special edition of the Journal of Learning Communities Research introduces readers to the work undertaken by campus teams involved in Washington Center's National Project on Assessing Learning in Learning Communities (September 2006 to June 2008).

Learning Communities and Student Affairs: Partnering for Powerful Learning

Diversity, Educational Equity, and Learning Communities

The Pedagogy of Possibilities: Developmental Education, College-Level Studies, and Learning Communities

Learning Community Research and Assessment: What We Know Now

Doing Learning Community Assessment: Five Campus Stories

Integrating Learning Communities with Service-Learning

Learning Communities in Community Colleges

Learning Communities and Fiscal Reality: Learning in a Time of Restricted Resources

Learning Communities and the Academic Library

Learning Communities in Liberal Arts Colleges

Learning Communities in Research Universities

Occasional Papers

Designing Integrated Learning for Students: A Heuristic for Teaching, Assessment, and Curriculum Design (PDF)

Approaching Diversity Through Learning Communities (PDF)

Critical Moments Project