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For immediate release: September 20, 2002

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown, 609-258-3601 or lauren@princeton.edu

Committee proposes program for four-year residential colleges

PRINCETON, N.J. -- A report recommending changes that Princeton should consider as it implements a plan to strengthen and expand the University's residential college system was presented to the Board of Trustees Sept. 20.

The Report of the 21-member Four-Year College Program Planning Committee proposes modifications in advising/staffing, programming, housing and dining to convert the University's current system of five two-year colleges into a system of paired two- and four-year colleges that will, in the words of the report, "create more interaction for first- and second-year students with upperclass students, graduate students and faculty."

As previously announced, Princeton plans to construct one new college and to reconfigure two others to implement a system of three four-year residential colleges and three two-year residential colleges. It is expected that the first year of operation of the first two four-year colleges, Whitman and Mathey, will be the 2006-07 academic year.

Specifically, the committee proposes that all juniors and seniors remain affiliated with a residential college, either the one they entered as a freshman or one to which they move after sophomore year. This association would be promoted by a continuing relationship with college deans and directors of studies, a limited number of meals, participation in programs and access to facilities. The committee also calls for enhanced academic advising for all students in the colleges; the creation of a position, perhaps called "director of residential life" in each of the six colleges; the residence of 10 graduate students in each college to provide academic, cultural and residential programming; the location of more teaching in the colleges; and improvements in facilities and the quality of food. The report now will be reviewed and discussed by a wide range of University deliberative and consultative bodies.

The committee's key recommendations appear at the end of this story as well as in the full text of the report, which is available online. The report also spelled out the priorities it places on each of the recommendations.

"I believe that we are embarked together on a process that will add greatly to the experience of all Princeton students -- most immediately, of course, for those who elect to reside in residential colleges during their junior and senior years, but also, as your report makes clear, for all undergraduates and for a significant number of graduate students," wrote President Shirley M. Tilghman in a letter accepting the committee's report. "We are building on the strong base of residential life that has historically characterized Princeton to achieve even more effectively our goal of providing the broadest and most rewarding educational experience for students both in and out of the classroom."

Tilghman thanked co-chairs Nancy Malkiel, dean of the college, and Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, and other members of the committee for their "exceptional work."

"The committee is convinced that the new college system will greatly strengthen the educational experience of Princeton students," Malkiel said. "By enhancing academic advising, intellectual and cultural programming, residential education and personal support, it will improve the lives of all undergraduates -- a key objective as the student body grows."

Since 1982, Princeton's five residential colleges have been composed predominantly of first- and second-year students, all of whom must live in the colleges. Most third- and fourth-year students live in dormitories that are not part of a residential college and take their meals either at eating clubs or make their own dining arrangements.

In April 2000, the trustees approved a recommendation of the Wythes Committee to increase the student body by 11 percent, from 4,600 to 5,100 -- the first significant increase in undergraduate enrollment since the advent of co-education in 1969. In order to accommodate the increase, administrators began working on plans for a sixth residential college. A year later, a committee charged with making proposals on the composition and program for the sixth college recommended to the trustees that a new residential life option for juniors and seniors should be offered to better meet the needs of more undergraduates.

The new sixth college, Whitman College, will house 400 freshmen and sophomores and 100 juniors and seniors when it is completed in 2006. Two existing residential colleges, Butler and Mathey, will be renovated to accommodate the same number of students from the four classes. The remaining three colleges, Forbes, Wilson and Rockefeller, each will house 475 freshmen and sophomores, and will be paired with the four-year colleges. Plans include opportunities for faculty members as well as graduate students to reside in each of the six colleges.

The Four-Year College Program Planning Committee met from January through May 2002. It was charged by the president to envision "a residential experience that takes fullest possible advantage of the diversity and educational opportunities at Princeton."

The committee was guided by two principles, according to its report: that the residential colleges are central to the University's educational mission and that the expansion of the student body is an opportunity to improve the quality of Princeton's undergraduate education.

In going about its work, the committee reviewed background material, including surveys and focus groups of undergraduates, prepared by earlier groups. Members visited other institutions and read proposals for the design of the sixth college submitted by undergraduates, graduate students and recent alumni in the Prospects02 competition last April.

The committee included seven faculty members, five undergraduates, one graduate student and eight administrators, all with a range of experiences and associations with the residential college program at Princeton.

In the conclusion of the report, the committee stated that its proposals "should assist the University in preserving and strengthening the personalized care, attention and guidance that have been highly prized by generations of Princetonians."

"In 1979, the Report of the Committee on Undergraduate Residential Life laid the foundation for a transformation in undergraduate residential life when it recommended the establishment of the five freshman-sophomore residential colleges that have served Princeton exceptionally well for the last two decades," the report said. "With the decision to expand the undergraduate student body and the commitment to the introduction of four-year colleges, the University has the opportunity to chart the course for a further transformation, which we are confident will serve Princeton equally well in the decades to come.

"Growth and change are hallmarks of great institutions," it continued. "We believe that the new college plan elaborated here will marry the best of Princeton's traditional strengths with new structures and opportunities that will make the University even stronger."

A copy of the full report is available online.

Four-Year College Program Planning Committee key recommendations

Advising and staffing

  • Academic advising of freshmen and sophomores should continue to take place in the colleges. Nondepartmental academic advising of juniors and seniors should be transferred from West College deans to the dean and director of studies of the college with which each student is affiliated.
  • A new position, perhaps called "director of residential life," should be created within each of the six colleges in order to enable the dean and director of studies to discharge their increased advising responsibilities. These experienced student life professionals could provide the level of service that has become essential in the increasingly complex environment of undergraduate residential life.
  • Ten graduate students resident in each of the six colleges should be given specific assignments related to academic, cultural and residential programming. These responsibilities should require no more than 10 hours per week. The current position of assistant master should be discontinued.
  • The colleges should offer expanded services in writing assistance, fellowship advising, specialized advising events and career advising.
  • The current faculty position of senior fellow may be discontinued in order to transfer resources to higher-priority needs.
  • New masters' residences should be constructed for Whitman, Butler and Wilson Colleges in the closest possible proximity to the colleges themselves.
  • College office space should be planned to accommodate the proposed changes in staffing.
  • The current assistant master apartments should be made available as rental housing for faculty. The residents would have fellows' privileges in the colleges.


  • Students should take the lead in designing programs for four-year colleges. The presence of upperclass and graduate students will help intellectual and cultural activities thrive in the colleges. Nonresident upperclass students will also be involved in college activities.
  • Four-year colleges will provide a natural home for campus-wide student-initiated activities.
  • Colleges might form College Societies to serve the particular interests of older students.
  • As many classes as possible should be held in the colleges.
  • Each college should have two large modular classrooms seating 25 students as well as a conference room for 16 to 18 students. These can be multipurpose rooms as long as the teaching function is central to their design.
  • A mix of public meeting and recreational activity spaces should be spread throughout each college. These include attractive, quiet study spaces; alcoves and small lounges; a central common room adjacent to the dining room; a TV room; multipurpose meeting and practice spaces; and a café. Fitness facilities are desirable but need further study.
  • Additional arts performance and rehearsal spaces, so greatly needed by the University at large, should be located within the colleges.
  • Individual, locked study carrels would ideally be provided for resident upperclass students in the four-year colleges.


  • Entering freshmen should continue to be assigned randomly to colleges and will remain in their assigned college for two years.
  • Rising juniors who reside in either college in a pair should have equal preference in drawing into the four-year college. They should be expected but not required to remain there for two years.
  • Preference in room draw for the four-year college should be given first to rising seniors already living in the college; second, to rising juniors already living in the college and in the paired college; third, to rising juniors in other colleges; and fourth, to rising seniors living outside the college. The maximum size for groups of rising juniors and seniors drawing together into a four-year college should be eight.
  • Rooms for juniors and seniors should be spread throughout the college, but should be clustered to permit draw groups to live in the same area. Upperclass rooms should primarily be large singles and doubles (one to three rooms), with a smaller number of quads (five rooms). Bathrooms should be located within upperclass suites.
  • Suites for graduate students will be dispersed throughout the college.
  • The facilities of the four-year colleges must be made maximally appealing in order to attract a representative cross-section of the student population.


  • Significant improvements are required in residential college dining. The new dining plan should feature simplicity of access, flexibility, opportunities for meal exchanges between colleges and clubs, numerous guest meal passes and built-in points for use at the Frist Campus Center. Ideally, dining halls should be open, without required check-in.
  • The quality of food needs to be improved.
  • The colleges should provide extended meal hours and make snacks available late into the night.
  • Freshmen and sophomores should have a contract for approximately 20 meals per week. Resident juniors and seniors should have a contract for approximately 14 meals per week. Those who join clubs or prefer independent arrangements should receive a partial rebate.
  • Nonresident juniors and seniors should be charged a fee, folded into tuition, which would cover receptions, snacks and occasional meals in the college with which they are affiliated.
  • A subgroup of the committee plus selected other administrators should be charged to make recommendations concerning the design and implementation of the new dining plan.
  • The quality of dining space should reflect high standards for furniture, lighting, acoustics and ambiance.
  • Current kitchen and servery areas must be renovated in order to bring them to the standard that will be achieved at Whitman College.

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