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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.

Snapshot of a Collegiate Conversion

— Princeton University is in the process of converting its two-year residential college system into a four-year system, and the Collegiate Way’s news pages have frequently reported on the progress of that work.

One of the simplest ways to keep people informed about large projects of this kind is by way of a website, and Princeton has just created a new residential college website that will provide everyone in their campus community with information about current developments. Today’s edition of The Daily Princetonian carries a column by one of the university’s senior administrators that addresses many of the issues that have come up in discussions with students about the residential colleges, and it invites people to visit the new website for updates and further information. Some of the issues covered are specific to Princeton, while others will be familiar to people who have worked in any residential college system. The column is reproduced below.

If your campus is in the process of a collegiate conversion, the new Princeton website may be a model you can adjust and adapt to suit the local ends of your own institution.

The launch of the residential colleges

This fall, Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel and I met with several hundred students in 10 different information sessions to answer questions about the launch of the four-year residential college system in September 2007. We heard three recurring themes:

1. How will the new residential college system differ from the current colleges?

Composition: Currently, the colleges house all freshmen and sophomores, with a small number of juniors and seniors in residence, primarily as RCAs. In steady-state, Mathey, Whitman and Butler will house approximately 200 freshmen, 200 sophomores and 100 juniors and seniors, including RCAs; Forbes, Rockefeller and Wilson will continue to consist of freshmen and sophomores (with upper-class RCAs), and each college will include 10 graduate students in residence.

Social activities: Student councils in each college will sponsor expanded social, cultural, intellectual, recreational and civic engagement activities. Colleges will have better infrastructure, enhanced physical space and increased resources to develop their own signature campus-wide social event or activity (e.g. Wilson BlackBox). A new staff member in each college will support students in their programming.

Dining: Each college will have its own unique ambience and character. Dining rooms will be less institutional and provide improved serveries, seating, lighting, acoustics and program space. A chef/manager in each kitchen will replace the current cycle menu, developing menus with direct input from college members. Menus will feature a wider variety of cook-to-order options, and, we hope, improved freshness and overall quality.

2. How will the mechanics work?

College selection: Entering freshmen will continue to be assigned randomly to colleges and will remain in their assigned college through the end of sophomore year. For rising juniors and seniors, priority for college selection will be determined by class year and residential college affiliation. The process for selecting into a residential college will begin with the application process in mid-February. Students will receive all of their draw times in advance so that they will know where they stand in each draw. The draw for rising seniors and juniors who wish to live in Mathey or Whitman, as well as the rising sophomore draw for Whitman, will come first, followed by the draws for independent housing, upper-class dorms and rising sophomores.

Meals: Some juniors and seniors will choose to take their meals at a coop, as a member of a residential college or as independents. Juniors and seniors in residential colleges must purchase a block of at least 95 meals per semester. Freshmen and sophomores must purchase a block of at least 190 meals per semester. These meals can be distributed over the course of the semester as students choose and used in any residential college or at Frist for late meals.

Students have also told us they are concerned that the four-year college system could result in further stratification of the undergraduate population and that some upper-class students would prefer to have both a club experience and a residential college experience. We are working to develop a limited number of shared meal plans with the eating clubs. In addition, starting next year, all juniors and seniors will be able to eat two meals per week in the colleges for free.

3. How are all these plans supporting choice?

Consistently, 25 percent of students have told us they are unsatisfied with the dining choices available to them as juniors and seniors. The residential colleges will give all juniors and seniors an additional option, especially for students whose needs are not well met by the clubs or by being independent. The four-year residential colleges can only house and regularly feed about 250 juniors and seniors who are not RCAs. We expect that the majority of juniors and seniors will continue to join eating clubs as they have historically, but we think it is important that students who do not wish to cook for themselves have an attractive option in addition to the clubs.

The University believes students should be able to consider every option available to them at Princeton—including club membership—based solely on what is right for them, not on their economic circumstances. The University has been working with the clubs to address this issue, and I am hopeful that we will have progress to announce in the near future.

We intend to provide additional information before winter break so students know the options available to them before making important decisions, starting in February, about joining an eating club, joining a residential college, entering the housing draw or signing a meal contract.

I urge you to keep asking questions, provide feedback at and attend the next round of forums Dean Malkiel and I will hold before winter break.

Mark Burstein is the Executive Vice President of the University.

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