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Data on Options & Satisfaction

All freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus and have University dining contracts. Incoming students are assigned randomly to rooms in one of the six residential colleges. For sophomore year they select their own room, but they must remain in the same college.

For junior and senior years, students may live and eat in the four-year colleges; this includes students who serve as residential college advisers (RCAs) and students with "shared meal plans" who as eating club members take meals both in the college and at their club. Most juniors and seniors live in upperclass dormitories that are not associated with a residential college; these students may take their meals at an eating club, purchase a University meal plan, join one of three co-ops where students cook for each other or be "independent" with no meal plan. Students who wish to cook for themselves have the option of living in the apartment-style suites in Spelman Halls. Juniors and seniors who do not live in the colleges are permitted two meals per week in the colleges at no cost, and many students take advantage of this option.

Table 1 shows the number of juniors and seniors who have elected the various options during spring room selection over the past four years. (The parenthetical numbers for juniors and seniors in the colleges show RCAs.) Students with shared meal plans are listed both as students in clubs and students in colleges. Some students in Spelman are also listed as students in clubs since some four-person groups in Spelman include a mix of independents and club members. Independents in Spelman and students in co-ops are also included as independents. Preliminary data for this year suggests that the distribution of students seems to be stabilizing, with some reduced interest in independent status and some increased interest in co-ops and University meal plans.[1]

Table 1: Living and dining options for juniors and seniors as of September 2010: 1,651 in eating clubs; 471 in residential colleges, of whom 86 are RCAs; 133 with shared meal plans, 208 in Spelman, 104 in co-ops, 242 independent

In its review of on-campus undergraduate social life, the working group was aware that significant change has occurred in recent years. Just since the current senior class of 2011 arrived in the fall of 2007, the size of the undergraduate student body has increased by 6 percent (from 4,845 to 5,149); the four-year residential college system has been implemented with the opening of Whitman College (2007) and the new Butler College (2009); new dining options have been introduced (the shared meal plans and a new co-op); Campus Club opened as a University-managed facility and the Carl Fields Center moved into a new location at 58 Prospect Ave. (both in 2009); and there has been an increased emphasis on internationalization, including expanded study abroad options and introduction of the Bridge Year Program. Even the Frist Campus Center, now a mainstay of undergraduate social and extracurricular life, has just this year celebrated its 10 th anniversary.

We note this to make the point that both residential and social life on campus are continuing to evolve as students figure out how best to relate to the options now available to them. To get an idea of just how many social events for undergraduates take place each year (apart from social events organized or sponsored by the eating clubs or other outside organizations), under whose sponsorship, and where, we asked the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Frist Center staff to analyze the events that took place in calendar year 2010. They found that 2,337 events took place; the overwhelming majority were sponsored by student organizations or the residential colleges; and by far the single most utilized location was Frist. In one of her President's Pages last fall in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, President Tilghman commended the "10 staff and 80 to 100 students [who] provide the energy and creativity that enable Frist to operate up to 20 hours a day and around the clock during reading and exam times." She cited Fristfest, "which celebrates the end of the academic year with entertainment, games, and abundant food and drink," and Winterval, which marks the holiday season, and she noted that the 17-member Center Stage Student Program Board that directs much of Frist's programming was conducting a comprehensive user survey to ensure that Frist continues to be responsive to the needs and interests of its users. We join in commending the staff and student leadership at Frist for the central role they play in on-campus social life for undergraduates, as well as for graduate students, faculty, staff and campus visitors.

In a meeting last fall with Vice Provost for Institutional Research Jed Marsh and in several follow-up discussions, the working group examined at some length the available data on undergraduate satisfaction with selected aspects of campus life (drawn mostly from senior surveys that are conducted every year just prior to graduation and get very high response rates). The basic message is clear: Overall levels of satisfaction are high (and generally higher than at other institutions) and where there is dissatisfaction, in large measure it does not correlate with any specific demographic factor or living arrangement. In other words, while we found areas for improvement, we did not discover any definable group that is not having a meaningful and rewarding social life at Princeton.

As Figure 1 indicates, roughly 80 percent of all seniors said they were generally satisfied or highly satisfied with social life on campus. (Almost 90 percent said they were generally or highly satisfied with their educational experience.)

Figure 1: As of 2010, 45% of undergraduates are very satisfied and 44% are generally satisfied with undergraduate education. 36% are very satisfied and 45% are generally satisfied with social life on campus

Similarly high percentages of seniors were generally or highly satisfied with their residential college experience during freshman and sophomore year (see Figure 2), irrespective of what living and dining choices they made for junior and senior years.

Figure 2: Percent of students very satisfied, generally satisfied or very dissatisfied with the residential college experience during freshman and sophomore year. Selective club: 26, 56, 4; sign-in club: 23, 56, 7; residential college: 34, 51, 4; shared meal: 32, 58, 3; dorm & dining plan: 34, 50, 0; co-op: 35, 43, 3; independent: 26, 56, 4

When asked about their satisfaction with residential college life during their junior and senior years (see Figure 3), seniors who lived in the colleges were reasonably satisfied, while seniors who did not live in the colleges either expressed low levels of satisfaction or, mostly, termed the question not applicable.

Figure 3: Percent of students very satisfied, generally satisfied or not applicable with the residential college experience during junior and senior year. Selective club: 7, 30, 48; sign-in club: 3, 24, 53; residential college: 27, 48, 0; shared meal: 27, 52, 11; dorm & dining plan: 8, 37, 29; co-op: 8, 26, 45; independent: 7, 29, 50

When asked about their upperclass dorm living experience (see Figure 4), seniors gave it high marks whether they ate at the clubs, had University dining plans, ate at co-ops or were independent.

Figure 4: Percent of students very satisfied, generally satisfied or not applicable with the upperclass dorm living experience. Selective club: 36, 54, 1; sign-in club: 33, 55, 3; residential college: 9, 26. 51; shared meal: 15, 32, 47; dorm & dining Plan: 24, 59, 3; co-op: 34, 55, 0; independent: 31, 61, 2

When asked about social life on campus (see Figure 5), seniors who were not in eating clubs clearly expressed less satisfaction than students in clubs, and the satisfaction level of seniors in residential colleges without shared meal plans falls below 60 percent. We believe these lower levels of satisfaction deserve further exploration and we hope to address them with some of the recommendations we make later in our report. On the other hand, when asked about social activities in the colleges themselves (see Figure 6), more than 70 percent of seniors in the colleges express high degrees of satisfaction.

Figure 5: Percent of students very satisfied, generally satisfied or not applicable with the social life on campus. Selective club: 52, 41, 0; sign-in club: 40, 46, 0; residential college: 20, 38, 0; shared meal: 50, 43, 1; dorm & dining plan: 16, 45, 3; co-op: 21, 50, 0; independent: 20, 50, 2
Figure 6: Percent of students very satisfied, generally satisfied or not applicable with the social activities in the residential colleges. Selective club: 9, 47, 24; sign-in club: 5, 43, 28; residential college: 11, 60, 12; shared meal: 14, 58, 10; dorm & dining plan: 5, 53, 21; co-op: 0, 54, 24; independent: 10, 48, 26

We want to close this section with one final graph, which indicates the percentage of seniors in different categories who felt out of place socially often or most of the time (see Figure 7). While the percentages among students in eating clubs were relatively low, for students in co-ops they were 27 percent; for students who were independent 32 percent; for students living in residential colleges 35 percent; and for students living in upperclass dorms and purchasing University meal plans 41 percent.

Figure 7: Percent of students who felt out of place socially most of the time or often during the current school year. Selective club: 1, 8; sign-in club: 5, 13; residential college: 10, 25; shared meal: 1, 11; dorm & dining plan: 19, 22; co-op: 11, 16; independent: 11, 21


[1] When four-year colleges were first proposed, it was anticipated that the number of juniors and seniors in the colleges — not counting RCAs — would roughly equal the additional number of juniors and seniors (roughly 150 per class, or a total of 300) in the larger classes that are now being admitted. This meant that the introduction of four-year colleges was not expected to result in a significant reduction in the number of students in the clubs. The number of juniors and seniors in the colleges is higher than initially expected because of the introduction of shared meal plans, which adds students to the colleges who are also in clubs. After subtracting RCAs and students on shared meal plans, the number of juniors and seniors in the colleges this year is 252.