The Colgate Scene
September 2003

Educating leaders, building communities

President Rebecca Chopp at a presentation on the new residential education plan held by the Hamilton Forum for members of the local community. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

"We will set high expectations..."

Our new class of more than 720 first-year students has arrived! They are a talented, gregarious and intelligent group of young men and women. How fortunate they are to become a part of the spirit that is Colgate and to receive one of the finest educations in the world. Throughout Colgate's 184-year history we have adapted our programs and classes to ensure that our students will be competitive in the job market and leaders in their communities -- our greatest tradition is preparing students for lives marked by personal success and engaged citizenship.

Within the broad context of the nearly 3,500 institutions that offer baccalaureate or higher degrees, Colgate belongs to the small group of 212 colleges defined as residential liberal arts colleges. Only four percent of the students earning baccalaureate degrees in America graduate from these residential liberal arts institutions (Steven Koblik, Dædelus). A residential liberal arts education provides students with opportunities to absorb the lessons of life by living and leading within community. Just as the liberal arts tradition is rooted in the belief that the best education is one that informs the whole person, residential education is based on the belief that forming well-rounded leaders requires civic and social engagement as well as philanthropic service. We believe students learn from full engagement in the Colgate community: academics, athletics, social organizations, residential life, religious communities. And we believe our students learn about philanthropy in their residences and student organizations and through community service.

As one of the leading residential liberal arts institutions in the United States, Colgate for generations has prepared its students for all the opportunities and challenges they will face. We attract intelligent, engaged, entrepreneurial and athletic students, and provide them with many different opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

All of our students experience the common core in the curriculum, in addition to choosing from among 51 different areas of academic concentration. That approach teaches students how to manage knowledge within a field and across disciplines. Colgate's academic courses have changed and grown constantly to keep pace over 184 years.

Approximately 20 percent of our students participate in varsity athletics, and more than 70 percent are active in outdoor education, club sports and intramurals. What students learn in athletics translates into success in the job market. Our athletics program has also changed many times during the last 184 years, but Colgate has always stressed that a sound body is important for success and leadership.

Where once almost all students chose to live in Greek-letter houses, today students choose among many options, including Greek-letter houses, theme houses, interest houses, living in small communities of friends, sharing an apartment or living alone. We require students to live in residence halls for their first two years at Colgate, and we provide a variety of housing options for juniors and seniors as they mature and look ahead to life after college.

Colgate students have always enjoyed social organizations. Today's students can choose from more than 100 established extracurricular organizations, and they always have the option, and support, to start their own.

In July, Colgate's Board of Trustees announced a new vision for residential education. This vision continues to provide many different options for our students because our student body, like the rest of society, has diverse interests, beliefs, commitments and lifestyles. But the vision is also dedicated to underscoring some central Colgate values: entrepreneurship, self-governance, service to community and developing skills for success. The vision is our own version of a residential liberal arts education for the 21st century, continuing our traditions, addressing the interests and needs of current students and making sure that our graduates are prepared to enter a complex and ever-changing job market or go on to top graduate and professional schools.

Beginning in the first year, students will learn how to work creatively and constructively with persons who are different from themselves. The arts of democracy program in the sophomore year will help our students learn to run organizations and lead communities by articulating their own perspectives, listening to others and building teams to address issues and opportunities. We want to help our students learn to express their values and opinions and use their own wisdom and perspectives for success and leadership.

Juniors and seniors will make their residential choices among Greek-letter houses, theme houses, communities of friends or Colgate-owned apartments. To ensure that this vision can be supported and that all of our students will have many options to experience "residential" liberal arts education, the board chose to require all students to live in university-owned housing (except, as is now the case, for 250 seniors who may apply to live in the village).

As we have throughout our history, Colgate will expect all students to learn leadership and community-building skills, but we won't "engineer" the process. We will set high expectations, provide the resources and cultivate the culture of community and citizenship; students will follow their own interests and commitments to develop the governance, philanthropic and social aspects of their communities.

As a residential liberal arts college, Colgate provides an education of the whole person: the heart, mind, body and spirit. Our new residential education program will help our students attain the experience, perspective, knowledge and understanding they will need for personal and professional success. But -- just as they select their individual academic programs -- each student will have to take the initiative to join the community she wants to be in; each student will have to find the athletic activity he chooses to be involved in; each student will find her own political position and how best to express it.

The higher education market is increasingly competitive. The job market and access to top professional and graduate programs for our students have changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Many of America's leading colleges and universities are attempting to make radical changes to keep up with the complex job market, the new reality of student and parent interests and the changing trends in education. Unlike many of our peer schools, we intend to embrace our traditions, not abandon them. We are not changing our student profile. We are not changing the feel of campus. We are not changing our mission. We will remain a residential liberal arts institution that focuses on preparing bright young men and women through a top-notch, well-rounded college experience based on community and friendship that equips them for lives of success and leadership. We look forward to hearing your ideas and to helping you find ways to support the next generation of wonderful Colgate alumni.

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