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Princeton Parents News
A Newsletter for Parents of Princeton University Students Summer 2011, Volume 33, Number 1     

From the Dean's Office:
Change and continuity in undergraduate education, 1987-2011

Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Dean of the College

As I conclude my deanship now after 24 years in this office, I find it instructive to remind myself of the changes and continuities in undergraduate education during this period. Much has changed, but much remains the same. Let me begin by describing the essential continuities:
  • The deep engagement of our faculty in undergraduate education.
  • The close interaction between undergraduate students and faculty members.
  • The conviction that an undergraduate program of study works best when it is well structured, from general education requirements to disciplinary majors.
  • The universal commitment to independent work, culminating in the senior thesis.
  • The confidence that living in a highly diverse, close-knit residential community contributes importantly to personal maturation and moral development.
  • The certainty that undergraduate learning happens outside as well as inside the classroom, through spirited participation in activities that foster teamwork, test leadership and develop habits of citizenship and service.
And yet, within that fundamental framework of rock-solid continuity, so much has changed. The new developments over the past 24 years that please me the most include:
  • The expansion of the Program of Freshman Seminars in the Residential Colleges, from nine offerings in 1986-87 in the humanities to 70-75 today, with course offerings drawn from all four divisions -- engineering, the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences.
  • The establishment of the Princeton Writing Program, offering more than 100 intensive writing seminars, a requirement for all freshmen.
  • The establishment of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, which provides, among other things, important support to undergraduates as they develop into more effective and expert learners.
  • The energy and vitality of the undergraduate curriculum, from new general education requirements, to reinvigorated programs of study in the academic departments, to a raft of new interdisciplinary initiatives, including intensive interdisciplinary course sequences for beginning students in the humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and an almost fourfold increase in the numbers of interdisciplinary certificate programs.
  • All things international -- term-time study abroad; summer study abroad, including Princeton's intensive language programs and the Global Seminars; the International Internship Program; senior thesis research abroad; and the new Bridge Year Program.
  • The establishment of the four-year residential college system, including the opening of the brand-new Whitman College and the significantly transformed Butler College; expanded staffing in the residential colleges, first by having deans as well as directors of studies, then by adding directors of student life; transfer of nondepartmental academic advising for juniors and seniors from West College to the residential colleges; all juniors and seniors now affiliated with their colleges, whether or not they are in residence; upperclass students returning to their colleges for some meals, for advising and for a variety of activities and programs.
  • Notable changes in the composition of the undergraduate student body: a more than twofold increase in applications to Princeton; a 50-50 gender balance in the applicant pool, admitted class and enrolled class; greatly increased racial and ethnic diversity, socio-economic diversity and representation of international students; expansion of the undergraduate student body, with a now-normal entering class of 1,300 students.
  • Princeton's pioneering no-loan financial aid policy; elimination of the consideration of home equity in calculating family contribution; full need-based aid for international students; increased aid for juniors and seniors to enable eating club membership; an increase in the number of students on grant aid in entering classes from 38 percent to our now-normal 60 percent.
While I certainly cannot forecast the future, I can say with some confidence that whatever happens in undergraduate education going forward will be grounded in the six fundamental continuities I specified earlier. In short, we need to continue to sustain the balance I have tried to strike: on the one hand, preserving and strengthening our enduring traditions and historic commitments; on the other, taking on ambitious new challenges to keep undergraduate education at Princeton fresh, alive and responsive always to needs and opportunities that we can foresee, or that may be just over the horizon.

As I hand over the deanship to my wonderful successor, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature Valerie Smith, I can say with confidence that our undergraduate program is thriving. But I also know that we never rest on our laurels; we are always asking what the next steps should be in strengthening an already splendid undergraduate education. Val, too, will have the luxury I have had of thinking about change and improvement in undergraduate education when nothing is broken -- in other words, the luxury of starting with a first-rate educational program and thinking imaginatively about how to build on strength, knowing that we have a good track record of matching compelling ideas with the resources necessary to permit the initiation of programs and services that take undergraduate education at Princeton to a new level of effectiveness.

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