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House Systems for Community Colleges

[Arms of St. Lucia] — Decentralized residential colleges within large universities—our most common focus here on the Collegiate Way—are the tertiary-level counterparts of “house systems” within secondary schools, familiar to many of today’s undergraduates thanks to the Harry Potter novels and the four houses of Harry’s magical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I was delighted to learn this week that there is at least one two-year community college that has adopted a collegiate house system: Sir Arthur Lewis Community College on the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies. All SALCC students and faculty belong to one of four houses: Lewis House, named from St. Lucia native Sir Arthur Lewis, Nobel laureate in economics and namesake of the college as a whole; Walcott House, named for Derek Walcott, another St. Lucia native and Nobel laureate; François House, named for former St. Lucia minister of education Hunter J. François; and Thomas House, named for former SALCC principal and UNESCO official Leton Thomas. The SALCC house system, like collegiate systems everywhere, supports the personal and academic development of students, and is the basis for organizing extra-curricular activities such as sports.

While collegiate societies within universities are most often called residential colleges, it is the relation of membership, not residence, that makes a college, and there is no reason whatsoever that collegiate systems—perhaps better called “house systems,” as in this case—cannot be established and flourish within largely non-residential institutions such as community colleges.

I would be very pleased to hear about any other community colleges with similar arrangements.

Update · 23 April 2006: In the latest issue of Newsweek, William D. Green writes compellingly about the way his community college experience changed his life. Just think how much more effective community colleges could be if they multiplied their strengths through internal house systems.

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