Historically Speaking

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 2023 (Fall 2017).

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

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 Life and Dean of Students and her or his staff. The Committee on Student Life (CSL), made up of students, faculty and 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 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 enrolling about 2,000 with a diverse student body and a distinguished faculty.

In fall of 2017-18 35 percent of Carleton’s 2,023 students came from the Midwest, 22 percent from the West, 20 percent from the East, 12 percent from the South, and 11 percent from outside the United States. Approximately 27 percent are African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American or of two or more races. 55 percent of Carleton students receive institutional need-based aid.

Carleton has 212 full-time faculty, and over 98% of all permanent 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 2017, 70 percent of class sections had under 20 students, and 2 classes 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 2017 graduating class participated in off-campus study for Carleton credit at least once during their undergraduate years, with study in 60 countries.

In the fall of 2017, 95.8 percent of the cohort of 2016 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, 2011 is 94.2 percent, and 88.6 percent of that cohort graduated in four years or less. Of the cohort that entered in fall 2009, 94.5 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.

According to recent alumni surveys, about one-fifth of graduates said that they had participated in graduate or professional study within one year of graduation, and over 80% had done so within ten years. The six most common fields of study for Carleton graduates since 1990 have been: law (11%), medicine (8%), education (4%), history (2%), business administration (2%), and chemistry (2%).

Carleton ranks second among nearly 600 baccalaureate-level colleges in graduates who have earned doctoral degrees in academic fields between 1966 and 2014. In that period, according the National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates, Carleton graduates earned 3,229 academic doctorates, including 642 in the life sciences, 547 in humanities, 501 in physical sciences, 436 in the social sciences. 246 in geosciences, and 242 in psychology.

In the past five years, 68 Carleton graduates have volunteered for the Peace Corps. From 2000 to 2018, Carleton graduates have won 133 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships, 125 Fulbright Fellowships, 23 Watson Fellowships, 15 Goldwater Scholarships, and 2 Rhodes Scholarships.

The most common fields of employment for graduates since 1990 have been: business/finance/sales (21%); higher education (11%); healthcare (11%); elementary/secondary education (9%); and science/lab research (8%). 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 24 college-owned student houses, including 16 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 and technology studies, linguistics, and other faculty offices

Scoville Hall, 1896

Admissions and Student Financial Services offices. Renovated in 2017.

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, temporary science 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, 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, 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

987,776 volumes, 690 journals currently received, access to over 69,520 full-text electronic journals, over 621,044 electronic books, 31,457 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.

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 Gymnasium, 1965

Gymnasium, pool, dance studio and offices

Watson Hall, 1967

Residence hall

The Music and Drama Center, 1971

Temporary geology offices, laboratories, classrooms, and physics shop

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 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 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), and 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, 400-seat performance hall, two rehearsal rooms, 13 practice rooms, music faculty offices.


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 at Carleton.

Over the next four to five years 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.

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

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 Facility is being built to gold 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.