Students and Student Life - 2003 Update
Throughout our discussions, several fundamental questions emerged pertaining to the relationship between our institutional purposes and the broader dimensions of student life. What place does extracurricular life have in our view of a liberal arts education?
Should the institution be more actively and purposefully involved in shaping student life? What is the relationship between our students' academic lives and other aspects-emotional, social, spiritual, physical, and vocational-of their Carleton educational experience? Although major improvements in the quality of student life have taken place in the past ten years, more remains to be done.
Carleton should give more recognition and acknowledgment to the importance of out-of-class student learning and development as a valuable part of the Carleton educational experience. We suggest that the College's definition of what is educational may benefit from expansion. Although intellectual growth and academic learning are Carleton's central and primary purposes, it is the special richness of residential and extracurricular life that provides much of the opportunity for students to realize some of the broader purposes suggested in the final sentence of the Purpose of the College: "to liberate...the whole potential of each student and open the way toward a generous and interesting life."
(Five years later these introductory paragraphs continue to provide context for student life priorities)
We also believe that colleges in the twenty-first century will have students who have increasingly less in common with one another. A successful residential college, therefore, will be one that teaches students how to live in community in a diverse and complex world. The college environment and the relationships among its students will continue to be dynamic, complicated, and even uncomfortable at times. A healthy campus environment will not be one without mistakes, confusion, distress, and frustration, but one in which we are able to demonstrate respect, compassion, understanding, and patience despite our differences.
(With Admission’s success increasing the diversity in the last three classes, this intercultural education challenge is more important than it was five years ago. It is now the top-priority student life issue.)
Although more needs to be done in the area of student life to integrate its various parts and provide a framework for living and learning that fosters broad development, we do not advocate program expansion. What we imagine would be more along the lines of rearranging, restructuring, coordinating, and refocusing our efforts rather than creating an overlay of new programs. The lives of our students appear to be busy enough.
Recommendation: Redesign some of our extracurricular programs to improve students' learning and living environment.
Carleton College is a residential academic community. We believe that the liberal arts experience is enhanced in an environment where students live and learn together. We also believe that most significant learning results from interactions with others: with faculty in classrooms, labs, and lounges, with fellow students, and with staff through campus jobs. Throughout our discussions we heard virtually unanimous agreement that the quality (or "qualities") of the people at Carleton-students, faculty, and staff-is the source of its excellence. We believe that the excellence of the Carleton liberal arts education has been, and should continue to be, bringing dedicated and challenging teachers and committed students into a small residential college with a low student-faculty ratio.
(The creation of full-time professional Hall Director positions has been critical in the dramatic improvement of life in the residences. This staffing arrangement must be continued to ensure that the quality of living and learning in Carleton's residences continues to be first-rate.)
A plan to extend the notion of a community of learners more effectively beyond the classroom might include increasing efforts to improve the quality of the life in College residences, accompanied by improvements in the quality of lounge and common spaces, and finding ways to increase and strengthen student relationships with faculty and staff (see recommendation on the advising system). The need for such initiatives was recognized ten years ago, as reported in both Navigating the Nineties and the report of the re-accreditation site team.
(Significant progress has been made in each of these areas in the past decade. Indeed, student life facilities, with the recent addition of the Recreation Center, the Town Houses, and the East Dining Hall, are excellent. The challenge in the next decade will be to update and renovate the aging large residences, and maintain the existing facilities.)
By improving the quality of life in student residences, students can learn to achieve a better sense of balance between individual rights and responsibilities to others, to be more at home among people who are different from themselves, to make healthy choices (about stress, alcohol and drug use, sexuality), and to develop greater capacity for personal reflection. Increased interaction among students and faculty and staff will help to narrow the gap between the academic and non-academic dimensions of student lives and provide an opportunity for the fuller development of students through informal mentoring and role modeling. We will need to strike a balance in becoming more intentional in shaping the student culture by recognizing the educational value of allowing students to manage and govern their lives, yet not leaving their development entirely to their own devices.
1. Technology and student life
Student life is increasingly shaped by technology. More student interactions are electronic, and sometimes problematic (e-mail harassment). As a student member of the Student Computing Information Center advisory board put it, for most students life at Carleton “revolves around computers”. In ten years a student’s personal computer will likely function as phone, television, mailbox, music and video source - - a complete information and entertainment center. Students in residence expect the standard of technology available to their homes. Prospective students are now more likely to check the band-with capacity of a school than its book collection.
Recommendation: the College must provide the infrastructure and technical support necessary for student’s lives.
2. Support for internships
As Carleton reaffirms its non-vocational liberal arts mission, career internships become especially important for students making the transition to the world of work. Carleton’s internship program is significantly smaller than those at comparable schools. For example, students may seek an unpaid summer internship (perhaps in a nonprofit or public organization) to obtain experience and skills for future employment. Presently many students cannot afford to forgo the summer earnings; but more would do such internships if the College, through special endowments, could offer stipends to replace lost income.
Recommendation: provide support, with staff and stipends, to expand the internship program. The goal would be to make an internship experience an important component (like an Off-campus Study experience is for 70% of our students) of the Carleton education.
3. The campus/student center
Sayles-Hill, the Campus Center, was converted from the old Gymnasium more than 25 years ago. Although it serves many functions as the college’s “living room” well, it is quite limited and dated. A renovated and enlarged Center could address some existing student life facility needs: a movie theatre, more meeting rooms, a large event party space, and better informal dining space.
Recommendation: create a task force to examine the student center need, and to decide if the campus center should again be placed on the future facility list.
4. Other student life issues
In addition to the above issues, the following topics are on the Student Life staff agenda, and will be reviewed in the next two years:
· Student health (review of the Wellness Center)
· Club sports and intramurals
· Transportation within Northfield and to the Twin Cities
· Disability services for students
· The food service