Residential college task force to focus on improvements

Crusaders, eagles, hedgehogs, lions, ravens, rhinos, sharks and terrapins don’t usually have much in common. But at Murray State, they share an ancestor – the Racer.

When Murray State put the residential college system in place 18 years ago, the University developed mascots for each residence hall to help reinforce a sense of community. Those mascots and the sense of identity in the residential college system has set Murray State apart from other universities and has helped increased retention after the first year, according to officials.

“It has been tremendous in helping retain students and increasing their college experience, not only for the time they live in residential college but when they move into apartments,” said Bob Davies.

A task force, which began meeting last year, is looking into how improve or expand the residential colleges. The Residential College Review Task Force will make recommendations by the end of the 2014-15 school year.

“What we’re trying to do now is think, OK since ‘96 we’ve developed a really good model,” Davies said. “What are some the tweaks we need to make it even more successful and more effective in terms of those experiences, those extracurricular activities?”

THE RESIDENTIAL COLLEGE EXPERIENCE

Every student, staff and faculty member at Murray State is assigned to one of eight residential colleges. Kenny Fister, chair of the Council of College Heads, said one goal of the system is to get more commuter students involved with on-campus activities.

Each college has its own intramural sports teams, quick recall team, resident advisers, resident director, faculty college head and college council.

“The colleges break up the University into eight smaller groups, and it makes the students that come here feel like it’s not such a big place,” Fister said.

In 1995, former President Kern Alexander created a committee to increase student retention. The committee sent members to Ivy League schools in the U.S. and to universities in England to study their residential colleges. The next year, Murray State adopted the residential college system.

The residential college system originated in Great Britain at Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, according to the website collegiateway.org. The system spread to the U.S. in the 1930s when it was adopted by Harvard and Yale universities. Murray State is listed on the site as one of the more recent universities to adopt a similar system. The site listed 30 universities in the U.S. with the college system, including Rice University, University of Pennsylvania and the University of California Santa Cruz.

“There’s also a lot of replication going on,” said Davies, who added that a national conference later this year will focus on the benefits of the residential college approach. “But we don’t want to lose our niche on it.”

Ivy League residential colleges – such as those at Harvard – contain libraries, dining halls and even recording studios. Fister said most of Murray’s residence halls don’t have room for such amenities because many of them were built before the University had adopted the college system.

However, Murray’s residential colleges contain study lounges, areas for students to socialize, and in the case of Hart and Regents Colleges, cafes.

And as residential colleges are renovated, such as Franklin Residential College, areas for students to meet and mingle are being incorporated into the design, Davies said.

A CHANCE TO GET INVOLVED

Murray State’s student retention and graduation rates have gone up in recent years. The University’s four-year graduation rate, for instance, has been above 53 percent since 2012, up from 49.6 percent in 2009.

But Davies said it’s impossible to know how much of that can be attributed to the residential colleges and how much stems from other retention efforts.

McKinley Hawkinson, sophomore from Carterville, Ill., said the residential college system gives students both on and off campus a chance to get involved. The Residential College Council, intramural sports and programs are among some of the opportunities to become involved in your college.

“Residential colleges provide a better opportunity for students to learn and grow instead of just live,” she said.

Hawkinson, who is in her first year as a resident adviser for Elizabeth Residential College, said she believes the biggest struggle for Murray State’s residential colleges is getting commuter students involved with college activities. But she said she will occasionally see students who live off campus come into Elizabeth to spend time in the lobby.

Because Hawkinson believes the residential college system is different than typical dorms, she said she is a little offended when people say they live in a dorm.

“You sleep in a dorm room but you live in a residence hall,” Hawkinson said. “All the other stuff, like commuter students and intramurals, make it a residential college.”

That sense of community extends to the president. In August, Davies, who was assigned to Springer-Franklin Residential College, helped students move into their halls. And during his interview with The News this week, Davies couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for the terrapins.

“Go Springer-Franklin College,” he said as he pumped his fist.

Story by Kate RussellStaff writer