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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.

More on Murray State’s Collegiate Anniversary

— Herewith the second story in as many days—this one from today’s Murray Ledger & Times—about Murray State University’s residential college system, established in 1996 and now celebrating its tenth anniversary.

Riding the Crest

Residential college system at MSU adds a little ‘magic’ to university life

In the last decade, the residential college system has brought some magic to Murray State University’s campus—so much so one student compared the setup to Harry Potter.

In the popular British stories, Diagon Alley is the street that meets all the witches’ and wizards’ needs. At MSU, Hart College faculty head Ann Landini recounted one student explaining to his mother how the system worked: “Mom, think Harry Potter. Everything we need—the clubs and all—will be here.”

That is indeed the purpose. With eight residential colleges in nine buildings formerly called dorms, Murray State says it’s the nation’s first public university to adopt such a campuswide program.

The system was established for the fall of 1996. In short, the concept takes dorms and turns them into communities of people who share an identity and activities. Each college has its own mascot and colors, and there’s friendly competition among the colleges in intramurals and other campus events.

The idea originated at Cambridge in England, as well as Yale and Harvard in the United States. And MSU officials continue to brag on its ripple effect on university retention and recruiting.

“I think it has probably provided a great many opportunities for students who might not have otherwise had those opportunities,” said former Hester College head Ron Cella, who retired in 2004 from the English department. “The university itself is able to document the retention of students. You can’t say the residential colleges are solely responsible, but they’ve contributed to that.”

In its 10 years, the residential college system has evolved to include coffee shops in Hart and Regents, adding an academic flavor to the residential side of campus. White and Springer/Franklin have room for classes.

Also included in the concept are faculty members. Each college has a faculty head assigned to it and other professors and staff are involved with different activities—formally and informally. Commuters and non-traditional students also are assigned to residential colleges and encouraged to participate in activities.

“We started from an idea and had to implement that to create everything we did,” said Cella, who was among the original faculty heads and served in that capacity for eight years. “There was substantial development, particularly in those first years, when we were trying to figure out what we needed to do to get our plan in place.”

Even though the system is in place after a decade, the effort to keep people involved continues each year.

“I think there has been significant progress, but the difficulty is students come and then they go,” Cella said. “So even if you do an excellent job getting everyone on board and involved, you have to renew that every year with the entering classes.”

In her third year at Hart, Landini said students start in these larger communities on campus then branch out. Her college offers a debate team, intramural sports and a newsletter while social activities keep the student-residents entertained.

Landini works with Hart’s Residential College Council, first-year leaders and the college’s residence director, who manages the residential advisers. She also talks with parents who have general university-related questions, meets with students about anything going on in their lives, serves as a campus resource and cheerleads at intramural games.

“No two days are remotely alike,” Landini said this week, sitting in her office with the door literally open to students. A dry-erase board even allows students to leave her messages—like anyone else in the college crowd. “It’s a little of everything. You can really put your knowledge of the university to use.”

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021