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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Residence Life at UT–Austin Has Little to Offer

— Every now and then I get messages from students who have come across the Collegiate Way website and have found something there that resonates with their own campus experiences. Last week I got a remarkable long message from a student at the University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest universities in the United States. Her message is full of the earnestness I have seen in many young people who come to college hoping to find a stable, home-like environment filled with intellectual excitement, but who quickly become disillusioned with campus life and just detach themselves from it, even though academically they may continue to do well. Extracts from the message follow, with a few small editorial comments from me in brackets.

I came across the Collegiate Way website one day and took a few minutes to read through the articles. I am a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin (population 50,000).… I graduated from a small high school here in Texas. My high school had 500 people and I knew pretty much everyone. I decided to attend The University of Texas because I wanted to major in business and UT was ranked as one of the best business schools in the US. Moving to Austin to attend such a large university was a huge change for me. My parents recommended that I live in the dorms to get the full college experience and meet new people. My freshman year I lived in Jester Dormitory which houses approximately 3000 [!!] people. Throughout the year I did meet many new people and gain new experiences, but I also did not feel the same sense of belonging and inclusion that I had known all my life. In my hometown I had a strong support system that included all ages of people from throughout the community. I interacted with these people each day and felt like they had a concern in my everyday life. [The importance of a mix of age groups is something I often emphasize; age segregation is one of the most corrosive aspects of life on many large campuses.] Throughout my year at Jester I also experienced the many downfalls that are mentioned in the Collegiate Way. I felt pressured to abandon all the values and standards that my parents and other community members had worked hard to instill in me.… The only person I had to answer to was the attendant who swiped ID’s at the dorm entrance, and of course he wasn’t too concerned. After the initial rush of excitement faded, I began to rethink my reasons for attending college in the first place. I reflected on my life in high school only a few months before and realized how much better I felt about myself as a person [before I started living on campus] and how much more productive and rewarding my life was.… [When university students tell you “high school was better” then you know something is terribly wrong.] Every day I am aware of the complete lack of connection between the classroom and student life outside of the classroom. I also see the virus of the irresponsible student pervading the good student that in reality does want to learn, but feels suffocated by the pressure to conform. Hopefully, by the time my children are of age to attend college, the residential college reform will be complete and they will be able to enjoy and prosper from their college experience. Thank you for your time.

I wrote back to the student thanking her for her time, and told her I would share her observations with other people interested in residential college life.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021