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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Eckerd College Studies the Collegiate Way

— At the end of January I had the pleasure of visiting and speaking at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, through the kind invitation of Dr. Jim Annarelli, Eckerd’s dean of students, and Mr. Grover Wrenn and Judge Susan Walker of the Eckerd board of trustees. Eckerd is a rising star among American liberal arts colleges, and it recently became one of the youngest institutions in the United States to shelter a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most respected undergraduate honors society. (And there aren’t too many colleges in the United States that have White Ibises grazing on their lawns, either.)

In residential terms, Eckerd is in a position many institutions are in: it has a mix of housing stock, some of it well designed and some not. The particular configuration of the existing buildings presents quite a challenge to the creation of college-sized units of about 400 residents. The most common housing unit on campus is a block with about 100–150 beds. Two or three of these blocks could be combined to form a residential college unit (at a liberal arts college like Eckerd I would call them “Houses” rather than “Colleges”), but many of the blocks are widely spaced and they don’t naturally open toward one another. Intervening parking areas are also a problem.

Eckerd is working on its comprehensive campus plan, however, and over time a number of the existing roads and parking areas will be moved or eliminated. Fundamental to the collegiate model is the idea of membership rather than residence, so there are ways to finesse the existing housing arrangements that would allow them to support residential college structures, with substantive improvements to the facilities following along later as general campus construction and renovation proceeds.

I’m grateful to Dr. Annarelli, Mr. Wrenn, and Judge Walker for their kind hospitality during my visit, and I look forward to hearing more from them as Eckerd continues the important work it is doing to enrich its educational environment.

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