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 that the Reverend James W. Strong took office as the first president, the first college class was formed, and 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. As of June 30, 2011, the College had an endowment of $653 million and assets valued at $1,020 million.

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 of 2,000 (Fall 2011) includes nearly equal numbers of men and women.

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 North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (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 of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, 230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500, Chicago, Illinois 60604-1411. Phone 800-621-7440.

Carleton College is registered as a private institution with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education pursuant to 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

While the Board of Trustees is ultimately responsible for the existence and welfare of the College, most major decisions about policies affecting the nature and operation of the College are made by governance bodies composed of students, faculty, staff, and senior administrative officers. The campus governance system falls naturally into two divisions: educational policy, which is the province of the faculty, and policies concerning the life of the campus at large, which is under the care of an elected College Council. The faculty has the assistance in the making of educational policy of a student-faculty committee, known as the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC), under the leadership of the Dean of the College. Five faculty and five students join with the Dean and one Associate Dean to make up the ECC. The College Council is chaired by the President of the College, and composed of five faculty, five students, and five staff (three of them senior administrative officers). The Council functions through subcommittees called into being to deal with particular policy issues. The Budget Committee is a permanent subcommittee of the Council and is composed partly of Council members and partly of other students, faculty, and staff elected or selected to that particular service. The implementation of policies regarding student life on campus is the responsibility of the Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students and her or his staff. The Committee on Student Life (CSL), made up of seven students, one faculty member, and two student life staff, advises the Vice President/Dean of Students in such matters. Many other standing committees exist, with varying memberships, to make policy recommendations and to help administer various areas of the campus.

Carleton Student Association

Every student is a member of the Carleton Student Association (CSA). Three officers and 18 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 student activities budget; and the appointment of student representatives to standing 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 enrolling about 2,000 with a diverse student body and a distinguished faculty.

Carleton enrolls a significant number of National Merit Scholars, 82 in the class that enrolled in 2011, or 16 percent of the first-year class. In 2011, Carleton was ranked first among national liberal arts colleges in the number of National Merit Scholars in the first-year class.

According to the most recent Alumni Survey (2009), 79 percent of respondents had earned or were studying for a post-graduate degree within ten years of graduation; 86 percent of those twenty years from graduation had earned or were studying for a higher degree. Among those twenty years from graduation, 24 percent had earned or were studying for a doctorate, 7 percent for a medical degree, 11 percent for a legal degree, and 8 percent for a degree in management. Carleton ranks third among liberal arts colleges in graduates who have earned doctoral degrees in academic fields between 1966 and 2009. In that period, according to the National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates, graduates of Carleton earned 2770 academic doctoral degrees, including: 524 degrees in the life sciences, 497 in the humanities, 447 in the physical sciences, 362 in the social sciences, 214 in psychology, 200 in the geosciences, and 156 in education. In the period 2000 to 2009, Carleton ranked fifth among all national colleges and universities for the number of doctoral degrees earned when adjusted for the number of graduating seniors.

In fall of 2011-2012 42 percent of Carleton’s 2,000 students came from the Midwest, 20 percent from the West, 20 percent from the East, 8 percent from the South, and 10 percent from outside the United States. Approximately 22 percent are African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American or of two or more races. 56 percent of Carleton students receive institutional need-based aid. Carleton has 220 full-time faculty, and 96 percent have a doctorate or a terminal degree in their field. The overall student/faculty ratio is 9:1. The average class size is 18; in the fall of 2011, 65 percent of class sections had under 20 students, and 1 percent had over 50 students. Each year, students can choose from approximately 1000 courses in 33 majors and several interdisciplinary programs. 70 percent of students in the 2011 graduating class participated in off-campus study for Carleton credit at least once during their undergraduate years, with study in 52 countries.

In the fall of 2011, 96.2 percent of the cohort of 2010 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, 2005 is 92.6 percent, and 88.2 percent of that cohort graduated in four years or less. Of the cohort that entered in fall 2003, 92.4 percent 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 507-222-4284.

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 26 off-campus student houses, including 13 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, a seminar room; Goodsell Observatory 1887—archaeology laboratory, astronomy, 16-inch visual refractor telescope, 8-inch photographic refractor telescope, astronomy laboratory, environmental and technology studies, linguistics, other faculty offices; Scoville Hall 1896—Gender and Sexuality Center, Intercultural Life Office, Student Support Services, The Write Place and classrooms.

Laird Hall 1906—English offices, classrooms, President and Deans’ Offices, Registrar’s Office, and administrative offices.

Sayles-Hill Campus Center 1910—student social, organizational and activity spaces, student post office, snack bar, bookstore, administrative offices, classrooms; renovated in 1979, addition completed in 1988. The Music Hall 1914—classrooms, practice rooms, music 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, Wellness Center; Evans Hall 1927—residence hall; 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, and student housing.

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—950,000 volumes, 1500 journals currently received, access to over 11,000 full-text electronic journals, over 11,000 electronic books, 1772 electronic databases, 450 study spaces, 52 public access computers, computer lab, 18 group study rooms, classrooms, and staff offices. A $7.5 million expansion project, completed in 1984, doubled the size of the Library. In 1996 it was renamed the Laurence McKinley Gould Library; Musser Hall 1958—residence hall; Myers Hall 1958—residence hall.

Olin Hall of Science 1961—physics, psychology offices, classrooms, auditorium, and laboratories, renovations completed in 1997; 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 Recreation Center 1965— gymnasium, pool, dance studio and offices; Watson Hall 1967—residence hall.

The Music and Drama Center 1971—concert hall seating 500 and theater seating 460 joined by gallery, ensemble rooms, practice rooms, and dressing rooms. Mudd Hall of Science 1975—geology and chemistry offices, laboratories and classrooms; renovations completed in 1997.

Johnson House and Alumni Guest House 1992—linked structures, Johnson House contains offices and support space for Admissions, and the Alumni Guest House has guest quarters, a faculty and staff lounge and a meeting room. Center for Mathematics and Computing 1993—mathematics and computer science 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 and Russian, French and 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 Memorial 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 Memorial 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—a 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), and Theater, and Dance, the space will include 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.


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.

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.

Carleton recently completed 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 at Carleton.

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. The College is committed to using the natural energy flows of the region to contribute to the sustainability of the community.

In keeping with Carleton values, two new residence halls were built in 2009 to meet LEED gold certification and the Weitz Center for Creativity is designed to meet a minimum of silver certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Cassat Hall and Memorial 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 Memorial 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. Other details that will help the Weitz Center for Creativity comply with LEED requirements include:

  • Incorporating 75 percent of the existing walls and floors from the original buildings into the new design;
  • Diverting more than 98 percent of construction materials from landfills, meaning they will be reused on site or recycled;
  • Re-insulating all existing exterior walls and ceilings;
  • Replacing all existing windows with new, energy-efficient windows;
  • Installing automated, high-efficiency lighting systems and occupancy sensors in hallways, classrooms, and common areas;
  • Using high-efficiency heating and cooling systems;
  • Minimizing water consumption through low-flow plumbing fixtures, water-efficient landscaping, and a storm-water-capture system for irrigation;
  • Using paint, adhesives, and carpeting that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds;
  • Using regionally manufactured materials when possible.