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


The Collegiate Way

Residential Colleges & the Renewal of Campus Life

The benefits of a University education cannot be thought to consist merely in the acquirement of knowledge, but in the opportunities of society and of forming friends; in short, in the experience of life gained by it and the consequent improvement of character.

—Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College, Oxford University

New to this site? Here’s a brief introduction. The sidebar at right links to all our main sections.

What does private and wealthy Princeton University have in common with public and less-wealthy Truman State University in Missouri? What does the Chinese University of Hong Kong share with the University of Mississippi in the American South and the University of Sydney in Australia? How is the new Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, similar to Murray State University in Kentucky and the National University of Singapore? And what connects all of them with Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale?

Each of these institutions—along with many others around the world—has established, is planning, or is expanding an internal system of residential colleges: permanent, cross-sectional, faculty-led societies that provide the advantages of a small college in the environment of a large university. “It’s just like Harry Potter,” say many students (who know that a school with a house system is arranged just like a collegiate university with a residential college system).

The Collegiate Way website ( is the leading resource on this worldwide residential college movement. Its hundreds of pages outline the foundations of the residential college idea, offer practical recommendations for the establishment of residential colleges, provide answers to common objections, point to recommended readings and the latest news, and present a directory of residential colleges and collegiate universities around the world.

If you are a student you should include universities that have residential colleges in your higher education search. If you are a parent you should encourage your son or daughter to explore collegiate universities. If you are a faculty member or university administrator you should consider joining the residential college movement and establishing a collegiate system: it can be done much less expensively than you might think, and it will transform your institution for generations to come.

Main Sections of the Collegiate Way Website

The six main sections of the Collegiate Way website describe the educational foundations of the collegiate model and offer detailed practical recommendations for the creation and management of residential colleges (or house systems) within larger institutions. They also provide links to published material about residential colleges and to collegiate websites around the world.

  1. Four Foundations for the Renewal of University Life — Decentralization, academic leadership, social stability, and genuine diversity are the foundations of a successful residential college system and the means to reinvigorate university life.

  2. How to Build a Residential College — The theory and detailed practice of everything from administration to the placement of bulletin boards (including a summary as well as major pages on membership and administrative structure, buildings and grounds, college life and the annual cycle, pastoral care, and academic life).

  3. Common Objections to the Collegiate Model — The residential college model is too expensive, it’s too hard, it’s too snobby, it’s untested, the faculty won’t do it, the students won’t like it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

  4. The Collegiate Landscape of the Future — “Why are we here if we’re not magic?”

  5. Recommended Reading — A list of published works about residential colleges, including links to historical documents and other recommended readings.

  6. Residential Colleges Worldwide — A directory of residential colleges and collegiate universities around the world.

About the Author

Dr. Robert J. O’Hara ( has sixteen years’ experience in residential college life and administration. He served as a resident tutor in Dudley House, one of the residential colleges at Harvard University, and was the principal founder of Cornelia Strong College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, serving as its senior tutor (dean of students) for six years. He has also taught at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he was a fellow of Ezra Brainerd Commons, one of Middlebury’s five residential colleges. An evolutionary biologist by trade and an award-winning science teacher (Ph.D., Harvard University), he is often quoted in news reports on the residential college movement and has served as a speaker and a consultant to universities establishing residential colleges or exploring the collegiate model in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, and Ireland.

Author’s Acknowledgments

These pages owe their existence to the wonderful years I spent living collegiately with my students in Dudley House at Harvard and Strong College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I learned more from them than they did from me, I suspect, as we laughed and cried and journeyed per aspera ad astra. Were it not for Edward Harkness (1874–1940) and Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856–1943), who created the collegiate system at Harvard in 1931, and Master Charles Whitlock, who hired me, I might never have had the privilege of serving in Dudley House in the first place and of discovering what college was supposed to be like. And were it not for the wisdom of the Government of New-England, as described by the Reverend Cotton Mather (1663–1728), President Lowell himself might not have had an ancient model to restore: “’Tis true, the University of Upsal in Sueden, hath ordinarily about seven or eight Hundred Students belonging to it, which do none of them live Collegiately, but board all of them here and there at Private Houses; nevertheless the Government of New-England, was for having their Students brought up in a more Collegiate Way of Living.”

© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021