Curricular Approach

Introduction and Overview of the Curricular Approach

Through the Division’s strategic planning process, The Curricular Approach was identified as the framework to evolve the Carolina Excellence Initiative to a more intentional, connected, and integrated learning experience for students where learning progresses as students engage with different programmatic touch points and services across the Division and beyond. The Curricular Approach aligns our work with the institutional mission and uses scholarly literature and national trends to guide the development of learning goals and narratives, outcomes, and strategies that will be used across the Division.

What does the Curricular Approach mean for Student Affairs?

  • Reframes how we do our work.
  • Greater intentionality
  • Leveraging our roles as educators
  • Increased professional development for writing learning goals, outcomes, strategies, and rubrics
  • Greater collaboration across the Division and beyond.
  • Operating more efficiently and effectively
  • Communicating our impact

What does it mean for students?

  • Continued use of Heel Life
  • Select programs based on interest and not the achievement of a competency
  • Greater integration and connection of learning goals across programs and services
  • Content and pedagogy are developmentally sequenced to best serve student learning

Ten Essential Elements of a Curricular Approach

  1. Directly connected to the institutional mission
  2. Learning goals and outcomes are derived from a defined educational priority
  3. Based on research and student development theory
  4. Learning goals drive development of educational strategies
  5. Traditional programs may be one type of strategy, but not the only one (e.g., intentional conversations, group dialogues and discussions, shared experiences, and engagement)
  6. Student leaders and staff play key roles in implementation but are not expected to be educational experts
  7. Represent developmentally sequenced learning
  8. Campus partners are identified and integrated into plans
  9. Plan is developed through a review process
  10. Cycle of assessment for student learning and educational strategies

What is an Educational Priority?

“An educational priority is a summative statement of what students will learn by their participation in a curriculum,” (Brown, 2020)

Educational Priority for Student Affairs

At the conclusion of the Carolina experience, students will be engaged community members who are resilient and contribute to an equitable, inclusive community through the process of ongoing exploration and commitment to a personal set of values and beliefs.

The following learning goal priorities were derived from the Educational Priority:


  • Goal statement: By developing resilience, students will be able to navigate challenges and distress in adaptive ways. 
  • Narrative: Based on the theory of thriving, resilience results from the positive reframing and overcoming of adverse experiences. By developing resilience, students will be able to navigate complex or adverse experiences they encounter relationally and within their environment, in adaptive ways. This will provide them with a range of protective factors including building and maintaining positive networks and relationships and learning to handle failure and disappointment. Students will graduate capable of managing life’s challenges and contributing positively to diverse communities and environments.  

Equity and Inclusion

  • Goal statement: Students will apply a personal framework, rooted in social justice, that will drive how they engage with others, their community, and globally. 
  • Narrative: Each student will apply a personal framework, rooted in social justice, that will drive how they engage with others, their community, and globally. This personal framework encourages engaging in ongoing exploration and commitment to a personal set of values and beliefs.  This knowledge informs individual decision-making, self-reflection, and navigating social interactions, which contribute to an equitable and inclusive community. The Social Action, Leadership, and Transformation (SALT) model most specifically informs our education on equity and inclusion, based on its emphasis on capacity for empathy, critical consciousness, equity in purpose, and commitment to justice. 

Values Development

  • Goal statement: Students will be able to actualize their values through congruent behavior. 
  • Narrative: Informed by Schreiner’s Thriving Quotient, and Museus’ S.A.L.T. Model, students will be able to further define their values and engage in values-based learning and decision making through their engagement in holistic educational experiences during their time at UNC. The ability to assess their personal values vis-à-vis those of the campus community allows students to develop a sense of belonging on campus and identify ways in which they can actively contribute to a welcoming, equitable and inclusive community. Value congruent behavior will help guide them in their pursuits of meaningful relationships, learning, communities, and jobs and will empower students to design a fulfilling life and positively contribute to society. 

Purpose of a Theoretical framework

Student developmental theory not only informs practice, but it also serves as a framework for the educational content and pedagogy used to support learning goal strategies.

The Theoretical Underpinnings

College Student Thriving (CST)

As a conceptual framework, thriving builds on positive psychology and college student retention literature to broaden the definition of student success. Thriving is defined as a function of student engagement, with a thriving student being one who is “fully engaged intellectually, socially, and emotionally in the college experience” (Shreiner, 2010, p.4). Thriving students succeed academically, perceive a sense of belonging and experience psychological well-being within the college environment (Schreiner, 2010). These factors contribute to persistence, graduation, and students maximizing the benefits of their college experience.

Social Action, Leadership and Transformation (SALT)

The Social Action, Leadership, and Transformation (SALT) Model introduces a leadership development framework that accounts for systemic oppression, power and privilege, and culture and identity. The SALT model denotes an explicit focus on leadership that is socially conscious and facilitates transformation to achieve justice.

The SALT model delineates the elements of a specific kind of leadership. The assumption is that these indicators of social justice leadership are essential to fostering the capacity of individuals, communities, and society to cultivate a system that is more equitable (Muses, Lee, Calhoun, Sánchez-Parkinson, & Ting, 2017).

Invitational Theory (IT)

Invitational counseling is founded on the belief that perception and self-concept are the combined forces that guide student development and successful school experiences; starts with the assumption that healthy functioning people strive to be intimately involved in mutually beneficial and caring relationships. Consequently, what most students want is to be affirmed in their present worth, while being invited to realize their full potential.

Intentionality is the keyword of Invitational Theory. No space or interaction is neutral. Based on the degree of intentionality a space can be experienced by the learner as inviting or disinviting. There are four categories. A person, place, policy, program, or process (the 5 P’s) can be either intentionally disinviting, unintentionally disinviting, unintentionally inviting, or intentionally inviting. The best learning environment is one in which conscious attention is paid to the previously stated principles and the 5 P’s to create an intentionally inviting environment (Shaw, Siegel & Schoenlein, 2013).

An Integrated Framework

Each of the theoretical models listed above serve as a foundation from which learning goals, outcomes, and strategies can be developed in support of the educational priority. In the selection review process completed by the Curricular Approach Steering Committee, no one model was able to singularly address all facets of the educational approach. As such, an integrated framework was proposed that pulls in pieces from the Thrive and SALT models, which provides the foundation for developing working definitions and narratives for the learning goals, outcomes, and strategies for resilience, diversity and inclusion, and values development. The Invitational Theory model serves a different purpose, it will be used at the strategy level in helping to describe how we do our work that is more intentionally inviting. Below are a few examples of where the concepts within a theoretical framework are used to develop learning goals.


As Student Affairs embarks on the incorporation of the Curricular Approach. The use of multiple theoretical frameworks to fully support and engage the tenets of the education priority was a necessity. The integration of the three theoretical models, (1) College Student Thriving, (2) Social Action, Leadership, and Transformation, and (3) Invitational Learning, provides greater opportunity for Student Affairs to unify its approach towards ensuring a meaningful engagement in developing the learning goals, objectives, and strategies necessary to ensure that “students will be engaged community members who are resilient and contribute to an equitable, inclusive community through the process of ongoing exploration and commitment to a personal set of values and beliefs.”


Brown, P.G. (2020). Developing a co-curricular learning model: Residential curriculum and curricular approaches in student affairs and residence life work (4th ed.), PDF

Muses, S.; Lee, N.; Calhoun, K; Sánchez-Parkinson, L; & Ting, M. (2017). The social action, leadership, and transformation (SALT) model. National Institute for Transformation & Equity and National Center for Institutional Diversity, PDF

Schreiner, L. (2010). Thriving in community. About Campus, 15(4), 2–11.

Shawm D. E..; Siegel, B. L.; Schoenlein, A. (2013). The basic tenets of invitational theory and practice: An invitational glossary. Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 19, 30-42.

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