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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.

The Daily Iowan on Residential Colleges

— Students and friends of the University of Iowa are trying to generate interest in the residential college model at their institution. In a Daily Iowan editorial today called “Creating a community that gives something back,” Alex Johnson writes, “Administrators like the fact that Residential Colleges pay for themselves through alumni contributions to university foundations. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty like that they foster a greater sense of belonging and help to promote academic achievement, creativity, and innovation.” Read more:

Creating a community that gives something back

Some of you forge through the “motions” in college and claim to be bored at times, right? It’s frustrating. Or, you’re just content. You’re not really that happy with your life here and not sufficiently unhappy that you’re driven to do anything about it.

You just want to graduate.

Well, you’re not alone.

What’s missing?

It might be because of the lack of “Residential Colleges.”

Read all about them at http://collegiateway.org.

Founded at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1300s, Residential Colleges are both vibrant forums and residences in which undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines willingly live together. They’re places where there’s a commitment to nurturing a close-knit community that pursues a well-rounded education through discourse.

Studies show that people seldom experience feeling anonymous, depressed, or lonely in such a place, or the other side effects too often associated with large research universities that in turn can play a role in social problems, such as excessive binge drinking.

Ideally, a Residential College looks and feels like a home, similar to a Greek chapter, rather than a part of an institution left over from the 1960s with linoleum floors, fluorescent lights, and sterile concrete blocks. Its layout is structured in such a way as to encourage fondness for the place, as well as a balance between social interaction and scholarship.

Sound good?

Administrators like the fact that Residential Colleges pay for themselves through alumni contributions to university foundations. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty like that they foster a greater sense of belonging and help to promote academic achievement, creativity, and innovation.

But those are just a few of the reasons that this is one of the fastest-growing reform movements in higher education. Both public and private universities across the world, from the University of Michigan to Australia’s University of Sydney are climbing on board.

“How can Residential Colleges pay for themselves?”

Alan Swanson, the senior vice president of the UI Foundation, points out that all fund-raisers in higher education understand that students who are involved in: 1) extracurricular activities, 2) traditions, 3) larger, diverse communities that in turn break social barriers, and 4) social support groups that encourage academic excellence turn out to be the alumni who have a much greater tendency to give back to their school after graduation. Not only is this empirically proven, it’s just common sense, right?

Supposedly, this is why we have the Greek system. But, as we all know, some chapters live up to the Animal House stereotype of hazing, excessive binge drinking, or members holding a total disregard for academics. So their alumni don’t give back as much either to the chapter or to the university because the experience they had didn’t prepare them for anything.

I’ll let you decide what kind of Greek system we have at the UI. I personally like some of the chapters a lot. But, on the whole, I think we can all agree that a lot of students don’t rush to be Greek because it wouldn’t feel right to them.

But the Residential College system can offer places where everyone seeking a similar yet different “Greek” experience feels welcome. And if it’s implemented properly, then not only will it pay for itself, but it would bring in more contributions for the UI Foundation in the future.

DI columnist Alex Johnson is both an activist and investor who lives in Iowa City.

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