Historically Speaking

Carleton College was founded by the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches under the name of Northfield College on November 14, 1866. Preparatory school classes began in September 1867, but it was not until 1870, when the Reverend James W. Strong took office as the first president, that the first college class was formed and construction on the first on-campus building was begun. It was agreed at the outset that after one year formal church control should end, but throughout its formative years the College received significant support and direction from the Congregational churches. Although it is now autonomous and non-sectarian, the College respects these historical ties and gives continuing recognition to them through membership in the Council for Higher Education of the United Church of Christ.

By the fall of 1871, the name of the College had been changed to honor an early benefactor, William Carleton of Charlestown, Massachusetts, who earlier that year had bestowed a gift of $50,000 on the struggling young college. At the time, it was the largest single contribution ever made to a western college, and it was made unconditionally, with no design that the name of the College should be changed.

Carleton has always been a coeducational institution. The original graduating class in 1874 was composed of one man and one woman who followed similar academic programs. Carleton’s current enrollment is 2046 (Fall 2018).

Mission, Vision, Values and Goals

The mission of Carleton College is to provide an exceptional undergraduate liberal arts education. In pursuit of this mission, the College is devoted to academic excellence, distinguished by the creative interplay of teaching, learning, and scholarship, and dedicated to our diverse residential community and extensive international engagements.

The College’s aspiration is to prepare students to lead lives of learning that are broadly rewarding, professionally satisfying, and of service to humanity. By discovering and sharing exemplary models of undergraduate education, the College seeks to be a leader among those colleges, universities, and professional organizations that share our dedication to this vision.

Carleton strives to be a collaborative community that encourages curiosity and intellectual adventure of the highest quality. Faculty, staff, and students respect one another for the serious work and the playful humor we share, and we support each other in pursuing a healthy balance of mind, body, and spirit. Quiet reflection and lively engagement are valued as sources of self-understanding and renewal. Carleton honors thoughtful conversations about difficult questions as necessary for individual growth and community strength. The College works to embody the values of freedom of inquiry and expression, and is vigilant in protecting these values within a culture of academic integrity, civil deliberation, and ethical action. Carleton aims to be welcoming and hospitable to its neighbors, guests, and the public, and a responsible steward of its resources.

Carleton’s academic goals focus on developing the critical and creative talents of our students through broad and rigorous studies in the liberal arts disciplines. Mentored by dedicated faculty and staff, students become active members of a learning and living community that promotes the exploration of passionate interests and emerging avocations. Students learn higher order thinking skills: disciplinary inquiry, analysis of evidence, arts of communication and argumentation, and problem-solving strategies. In their chosen fields of study, students strengthen their capabilities for disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and artistic production. Students acquire the knowledge necessary for the continuing study of the world’s peoples, arts, environments, literatures, sciences, and institutions.

Carleton develops qualities of mind and character that prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges.

Accreditation and Affiliations

Accredited by several associations, including the Higher Learning Commission (since 1913), Carleton offers the Bachelor of Arts degree. Among the academic honor societies with chapters on the campus are Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board, scholastic honor societies and Sigma Xi, science honor society.

Carleton is a member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM).

Carleton College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, 230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500, Chicago, Illinois 60604-1411. Phone 800-621-7440.

Carleton College is registered with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education pursuant to Minnesota Statutes sections 136A.61 to 136A.71. Registration is not an endorsement of the institution. Credits earned at the institution may not transfer to all other institutions.

College Governance

The Carleton Board of Trustees is responsible for the general educational and financial policies and operations of the College. Many of the policies and procedures that guide the day-to-day operation of the College originate in and are implemented by the shared governance system of college committees and the President’s senior leadership team. Carleton’s shared governance is historically separated into two categories: educational policy, as determined by the faculty, and non-educational policy, as carried forward by the College Council.

The faculty receive policy recommendations from the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC). The ECC, co-led by a faculty member and the Dean of the College, is comprised of faculty and students, who will function as a hearing and policy formulation committee. They are responsible for the articulation of educational policy and will receive occasional reports from other committees (such as the Academic Standing Committee) that are primarily concerned with educational or curricular matters.

The College Council oversees non-educational policy which may be forwarded on to the Board of Trustees for approval. The Council, chaired by the President, is made up of faculty, staff and students, including the faculty president and the president of the Carleton Student Association. The Board of Trustees and the Alumni Council also designate a non-voting representative to attend each meeting. The Council may create subcommittees, consisting of members of the Council and other campus constituents, to consult and produce policy recommendations when needed. There are currently three subcommittees of the College Council: the Budget Committee, the Campus Design Advisory Committee, and the Community, Equity, and Diversity Initiative (CEDI).

The Student Life Advisory Committee is constituted as an advisory committee to the Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students to address challenges and opportunities specifically concerning student life, and to help develop policies and practices for review by College Council or the Board of Trustees.

Carleton Student Association

Every student is a member of the Carleton Student Association (CSA). Three officers and 22 senators are elected annually to serve as the Senate, CSA’s legislative body. The Senate’s duties include: the election of student members; creation of ad-hoc subcommittees; the management of the CSA activities fees, chartering new student organizations, and the appointment of student representatives to various campus committees. CSA also works with the Dean of Students Office to address issues of concern to students.

The College: A Statistical Look

Carleton College is a co-educational, residential liberal arts college with a distinguished faculty and a diverse student body of about 2,000.

In fall of 2019, 34% of Carleton’s 2,064 students came from the Midwest, 23% from the West, 19% from the East, 13% from the South, and 11% from outside the United States. Approximately 28% are African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American or of two or more races. 55% of Carleton students receive institutional need-based aid.

Carleton has 212 full-time faculty, and 100% of all tenured and tenure-track faculty have a doctorate or a terminal degree in their field. The overall student/faculty ratio is 9:1. The average class size is 16. In the fall of 2019, 69 percent of class sections had under 20 students, and no class had over 50 students. Each year, students can choose from approximately 1000 courses in 33 majors and several interdisciplinary programs. 76 percent of students in the 2018 graduating class participated in off-campus study for Carleton credit at least once during their undergraduate years, with study in 54 countries.

In the fall of 2019, 95% of the cohort of 2018 first-year students returned to Carleton. In accordance with the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the six-year graduation rate for the cohort that entered in fall of 2013 was 92%, and 88% of that cohort graduated in four years or fewer. Of the cohort that entered in fall of 2011, 94% graduated within eight years of entering Carleton. Questions related to this report should be directed to Carleton’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment at (507) 222-7732.

Since 2013, about one-sixth of graduates enrolled in graduate or professional study within one year of graduation. Of the graduates from 2000-2009, 75% had done so within ten years. The six most common fields of graduate study for Carleton graduates since 1999 have been: health professions (15%), legal professions (10%), education (9%), physical sciences (9%), business (7%), and biological sciences (6%).

Carleton ranks fist among nearly 243 baccalaureate-level arts and sciences colleges in graduates who have earned doctoral degrees in academic fields between 2007 and 2018 (the most recent year for which data are available). In that period, according to the National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates, Carleton graduates earned 1,043 academic doctorates, including 266 in the life sciences, 223 in physical and earth sciences, 197 in psychology and social sciences, and 182 in humanities and the arts.

From 2000 to 2019, Carleton graduates have won 144 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships, 143 Fulbright Fellowships, 25 Watson Fellowships, 17 Goldwater Scholarships, and 1 Rhodes Scholarship. At one to five years after graduation, the most common occupations are graduate student (20%), business/finance/sales (7%), higher education (7%), and elementary/secondary education (5%). Six to ten years after graduation, the most common occupations are medicine (7%), business/finance/sales (7%), attorney (7%), and college instructor or professor (6%). For more detailed breakdowns of post-Carleton and employment by undergraduate major, see the Career Center's page on Employment and Education After Carleton.

The Campus

What now constitutes 1040 acres of campus, arboretum, and athletic fields started with two ten-acre tracts deeded to the infant college in 1867 by Charles M. Goodsell, a miller, and Charles A. Wheaton, Northfield editor.

Even before a class was held, the trustees authorized the executive committee “to enclose the grounds and improve the same by cultivation and planting trees.” This concern for the students’ environment is still an important aspect of the Carleton experience. As of today, Willis Hall has been joined by 44 others on campus, including 12 academic facilities, 11 on-campus residence halls, nine student apartment houses, four recreation and athletic facilities, a library, a chapel, an observatory and a campus center. The College also offers 29 college-owned student houses, including 14 cultural or language shared interest houses.

Architectural Heritage

The history of Willis Hall, the oldest building on campus, is typical of many of Carleton’s older facilities. While remaining true to their architectural heritage, they have served a variety of needs over the years, evolving—with the aid of judicious renovations—to meet the needs of an ever-changing institution.

Willis, for example, started out as an all-purpose building: it contained a men’s dormitory, classrooms, offices, and a small chapel. Later, a bookstore and a post office were added. Still later, the building was transformed into a student union. In 1976, it was remodeled again, reverting to an academic building.

The following chronological listing of Carleton’s buildings indicates their present function. For information on the history of each, consult Carleton: The First Century by Leal Headley and Merrill Jarchow.

Willis Hall, 1872

Economics, educational studies, political science offices, classrooms, and seminar room

Goodsell Observatory, 1887

Archaeology laboratory, astronomy, 16-inch visual refractor telescope, 8-inch photographic refractor telescope, astronomy laboratory, environmental studies, linguistics, and other faculty offices

Scoville Hall, 1896

Admissions and Student Financial Services offices. Renovated in 2017.

Laird Hall, 1906

Closed for renovation fall of 2020

Sayles-Hill Campus Center, 1910

Student social, organizational, and activity spaces; student post office; café; bookstore; administrative offices; classrooms. Renovated in 1979, addition completed in 1988.

The Music Hall, 1914

Temporary English offices, classrooms, President and Deans' Offices, Registrar's Office, and administrative offices.

Skinner Memorial Chapel, 1916

Chapel and offices

Burton Hall, 1916

Residence hall and dining hall

Nourse Hall, 1917

Residence hall, and Nourse Theater

Leighton Hall, 1921

Religion, history, philosophy, sociology and anthropology offices, classrooms, administrative offices

Davis Hall, 1923

Residence hall and Wellness Center

Evans Hall, 1927

Residence hall, renovated in 2013

Severance Hall, 1927

Residence hall, Dean of Students Office, Residential Life Office

Laird Stadium, 1927

Locker rooms; weight training area; football game field; eight-lane, 400-meter, all-weather track

Boliou Memorial Art Hall, 1949

Gallery, studios, classrooms, and art and art history department offices, expansion and remodeling completed in 1995.

Laurence McKinley Gould Library, 1956

510,370 volumes, 262,879 government documents, 380 print journals currently received, access to over 186,080 electronic journals, over 1,281,388 electronic books, 414 electronic databases, 450 study spaces, 52 public access computers, computer lab, 18 group study rooms, classrooms, and staff offices. The Writing Center and Academic Support is located in the library as well as the Quantitative Resource Center.

Musser Hall, 1958

Residence hall

Myers Hall, 1958

Residence hall

Olin Hall of Science, 1961

Cognitive Science, computer science, physics, psychology offices, classrooms, auditorium, and laboratories, renovations completed in 1997, and in 2020.

Goodhue Hall, 1962

Residence hall

The West Gymnasium, 1964

Basketball courts, swimming pool, locker rooms and offices of Physical Education, Athletics and Recreation department

Cowling Gymnasium, 1965

Gymnasium, pool, dance studio and offices

Watson Hall, 1967

Residence hall

The Music and Drama Center, 1971


Johnson House and Alumni Guest House, 1992

Linked structures, Johnson House contains offices and support space for Career Center, and the Alumni Guest House has guest quarters, a library/lounge, and meeting room.

Center for Mathematics and Computing, 1993

Mathematics and statistics department offices, the Math Skills Center and library, Institutional Technology Services, including three computing laboratories, training room, administrative offices and classrooms.

Hulings Hall, 1995

Biology department offices and portions of the psychology department, teaching and research laboratories, and greenhouse.

Recreation Center, 2000

Climbing wall, aerobic/dance studio, fitness center, racquetball courts, and field house with 200 meter indoor track, surrounding four infield courts for volleyball, tennis and basketball.

Language and Dining Center, 2001

Asian languages, classical languages, German, Russian, French, Spanish and Middle Eastern Languages, The Language Center, classrooms, seminar rooms, 400-seat dining hall.

Student apartment houses, 2001

Nine two- and three-story houses (Brooks, Collier, Colwell, Dixon, Eugster, Hunt, Nason, Owens, and Scott) offer 23 apartments accommodating 100 students.

Cassat and James Hall, 2009

Two four-story residence halls located on the southeast side of campus and linked by an underground tunnel. They house 230 students from all class years, with more than half living in traditional singles and doubles in Cassat Hall and nearly 100 living in suites in James Hall. Both halls have been designed with an eye toward sustainability and include numerous shared spaces to encourage community life and innovative features.

Weitz Center for Creativity, 2011

Facility geared toward creative collaboration supporting multiple student and classroom projects and allowing faculty members to teach with words, images, sounds, and narrative in a variety of media.  In addition to housing the departments of Cinema and Media Studies (CAMS), Theater, and Dance, the space includes a teaching museum, a dramatic theater, a cinema theater, dance studios, classrooms, the Learning and Teaching Center and a coffee shop. The building is home to the Presentation, Events and Production Support (PEPS) office and the IdeaLab, a shared, interdisciplinary laboratory for exploring and learning to use technology. Music addition, in 2017, added a 400-seat performance hall, two rehearsal rooms, 13 practice rooms, and music faculty offices.

Anderson Hall, 2019

The integrated science complex is home to the Chemistry, Geology, and Physics departments. Features include state-of-the-art labs, classrooms, and the Class of 1969 Makerspace, a collaborative space stocked with tools to design, prototype, and build. The Daugherty Atrium, a three-story glass foyer, functions as a "living room" for the science departments, including Olin and Hulings Halls. The East Energy Station is housed under the basement.


Carleton College recognizes that it exists as part of interconnected communities that are affected by personal and institutional choices. We are dedicated, therefore, to investigating and promoting awareness of the current and future impact of our actions in order to foster responsibility for these human and natural communities. Carleton strives to be a model of environmental stewardship by incorporating ideals of sustainability into the operations of the College and the daily life of individuals.

Carleton has a Climate Action Plan with the goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus by 2050. To support the Climate Action Plan, sustainability and climate change topics have been integrated into the curriculum along with many student work-study positions that are engaged in projects to advance on-campus sustainability initiatives in the areas of waste, land management, energy supply and demand, procurement, and transportation.

Carleton is transitioning to a campus-wide geothermal heating and cooling system that will reduce operating costs and carbon-emissions enabling the campus to use more sources of renewable energy. The geothermal system is currently providing heating and cooling to the east side campus buildings. This project will be completed in 2021.

In 2004 the college constructed a 1.65 megawatt wind turbine. It was the first college-owned, utility scale wind turbine in the United States and over the life of the turbine it is expected to produce about 100-120 million kilowatt hours of clean energy. A second 1.6 megawatt wind turbine began providing power directly to Carleton’s electrical grid in fall 2011.

The College has a comprehensive recycling and compost program along with various car-sharing and public transportation opportunities around Northfield and to the Twin Cities.

New Construction LEED Projects

In keeping with Carleton values, two new residence halls, Cassat and James Halls and Weitz Center for Creativity received LEED gold certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The new Integrated Science Complex is being built to platinum certification level.

Cassat Hall and James Hall, with exteriors of durable brick, stone, and clay tile, are of an environmentally sustainable design, and earned a LEED gold certification based on the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards in sustainable design, construction, and operation. Solar thermal roof panels (made in Minnesota) on Cassat Hall are designed to heat 50% of the domestic water by utilizing energy from the sun to pre-heat supply water. Photovoltaic (PV) solar roof panels on James Hall convert energy from the sun into electricity to power the buildings.

Carleton chose not to demolish the historic old middle school when planning for the Weitz Center for Creativity, rather, entire sections of the original 1910 and 1934 structures were either preserved or recycled. The following materials have been reclaimed for use in the new facility: mosaic tile floor, ornate ironwork on a main staircase, wood from the bleachers in the former gym which was reused as wall covering, wood seats from the 1930s-era auditorium which appear as a sculpture installation on the ceiling leading to the new cinema, much of the original woodwork and trim, and slate from the original blackboards. Many details helped the Weitz Center for Creativity achieve LEED gold certification.

Carleton's new integrated science complex includes renovation of Hulings and Olin Hall, and construction of Evelyn M. Anderson Hall in the courtyard connecting the buildings into one facility. The project is tracking to platinum level and has implemented many sustainable practices to optimize energy performance, water efficiency, enhanced mechanical/electrical systems, indoor air quality management, reduced light pollution, and recycling more than 75% construction waste.