The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges & the Renewal of University Life  ‹›


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.

50th Anniversary of the Rice Residential Colleges

— Rice University in Texas was the third American University—after Harvard and Yale—to establish a residential college system for its entire undergraduate population. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rice’s collegiate system, and the first of what will surely be many news reports and celebrations have begun to appear. The story below is quoted in full from today’s Houston Chronicle.

Rice undergrads share a sense of community

Upon meeting, the first question that Rice University alumni usually ask each other makes no sense to the uninitiated: What college are you from?

There are the Bakerites—those who lived in the campus’ first residential college, home of a monthly naked fun run known as Baker 13; the tower-dwellers of the modern Sid Richardson, the tallest building on campus; and those from Jones College, the once-all-female residence that connects to the rest of the university via the “Virgin’s Walk” sidewalk.

“The college is all about the cultural, intellectual and social experience,” said Wes Morris, an English professor who lives with his wife in a house adjacent to Hanszen College and serves as the college master.

It was 50 years ago that the former Rice Institute launched an experiment—forgo standard dormitories to establish self-governing residential colleges that were in essence mini-communities.

They are Rice’s more inclusive version of fraternities and sororities.

The move would transcend the undergraduate-student experience and university life so greatly that the college system today is seen as a hallmark of the private university.

About 71 percent of Rice’s nearly 3,000 undergraduate students live on campus at one of the nine residential colleges. The university plans to open two more colleges by the fall of 2009 to accommodate a student body that Rice hopes to expand by 30 percent over the next decade.

“There’s a question in our mind whether (expanding) will make it more difficult for students to bond together and get to know each other like they do now,” Morris said.

‘Social perks’

Every undergraduate student at Rice is randomly assigned to one of the colleges, and with the exception of a few, most freshmen live on campus.

“The students automatically step into a community at Rice,” said chemistry professor John Hutchinson, the Brown College master. “You don’t have to ‘rush’ to find a community.”

Each college has a unique feel—partly because of the distinct architecture and physical setup and partly because of the unique traditions each has embraced.

Laura Kelley, a junior at Brown College and a pre-med major, said the residential colleges provide “the social perks that the Greek system provides, but it’s not exclusive.”

Students elect college officers, plan events, play sports, eat, study and live together—and matriculate and graduate together as a group.

Connie Carson, president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers–International, said the model for residential colleges originally came from overseas.

Though they aren’t widespread among U.S. colleges, “residential colleges and living-learning programs are on the upsurge,” Carson said.

“What they’re doing is trying to bridge the out-of-classroom and in-classroom experiences and create communities of high intellectual engagement,” Carson said.

Carson points to studies that show that students who are more engaged with the campus tend to have better academic success and are less likely to leave the school.

“If you look at elite institutions, they have on-campus requirements,” and now even larger universities are trying to create pockets of smaller communities, she said.

Drawbacks, too

The residential colleges represent the “best and worst of Rice,” Kelley said.

“It makes Rice so intimate because you have a community of students, resident associates, and everyone is looking out for you,” she said. “You get to know people you would not have sought out on your own.”

But on the downside, “everybody knows everything about you. Some people like that more than others.”

Senior Emily Yeomans said Jones College has been the source of her best friends at Rice. But the bond that students develop with their individual colleges sometimes leaves the space between the residence halls lonely, she said.

“Sometimes our campus feels empty,” Yeomans said. “People hang out at the colleges, so walking around campus you don’t see a lot of people.”

Related Collegiate Way News

© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021