Rice: The Next Century

Report of the Strategic Planning Committee


One of the most important strengths of Rice University is the quality of its undergraduate students. The improvement in the University's national and international reputation over the past decade has allowed Rice to compete with the most highly ranked universities for the best undergraduate students in the country. Our success in attracting and retaining these students, however, could be improved. We now know more about why students do or do not come to Rice, but our knowledge on this score could still be improved.

Once students arrive, the residential college system has a profound impact on their lives. The colleges, each with its own dining room, student government, and college budget, offer the advantages of a small community with a diversity of students. Students benefit from their interactions with the faculty associates who attend lunches in the college, advise students, and often build lasting friendships with them. They also benefit from their relationship with the faculty Master who lives in the college with her or his family and spends much time working with and advising students.

Rice is justifiably proud of its residential system. As the Masters have pointed out to us, it is one of the unique aspects of Rice and probably one of the main attractions in recruiting students. Yet our discussions with the Masters, with students, and with other faculty reveal that the intellectual and cultural life of the colleges could be improved considerably. In some ways, colleges have taken on social functions that are extraneous to the central mission of the colleges. Some of the orientation week activities, for instance, have the flavor of an initiation; each college has its own traditions. A sense of belonging is, of course, important to everyone. But during their years here, students might benefit from a broader and more intellectually rigorous introduction to the culture and mission of the University.

Masters require greater support in order to foster a college atmosphere expressive of the educational purposes of the University. Too often Masters have to function as mediators between students in their colleges and the administrative side of the University. This unfairly burdens Masters, who now spend too much time on food and housing, building and maintenance issues, and other daily responsibilities. The colleges have historically attracted excellent Masters with well-earned reputations as teachers, scholars, and campus leaders. By providing the program support they need to do the job well, it will be easier in the future to find outstanding Masters, and the cultural life of the colleges will prosper.

We note that the College system now accommodates only about 70% of all undergraduates and a disproportionately large number of those living off campus are juniors and seniors. This preferential loss of juniors and seniors, with their experience and leadership, diminishes the quality of life in the colleges. According to a recent survey, of those who live off campus, more than half would choose to live on campus if accommodations were available. This situation is not compatible with our educational or our social objectives.

To address these issues and attain our goal for our undergraduate students, we propose several initiatives:

Initiative 7. Develop a recruitment strategy, shaped by reliable data about student enrollment decisions. This will be used to ensure that we attract and retain the best students in the country from a variety of cultural, socio-economic, geographic, and national background. At the same time, we will seek more varied forms of excellence - a greater range of talent and wider intellectual diversity in order to enhance the Rice experience.

Initiative 8. We will improve academic advising for freshman and sophomore students both by increasing faculty participation in the advising system, and by other means.

Although many faculty are involved in advising students once they declare a major, fewer are involved in advising students in the freshman and sophomore years, when they could most benefit from academic advice. Students often receive the bulk of their advice from their peers and from academic advisors who are not regular members of the faculty. This advice is often good, but it is not an adequate substitute for the intellectual judgment of scholars who are at the cutting edge of academic knowledge. To encourage faculty participation in academic advising, we urge that incentives be developed to encourage faculty to engage in this important activity, and especially in the academic advising of freshman and sophomore students.

Initiative 9. College Masters will be provided with the staff and financial resources to sustain a residential environment that strengthens the educational mission of the University.

Additional resources in the colleges should be used to develop concert and lecture series, discussion groups, and outreach programs beyond the hedges to help students see their academic work in a broad intellectual and cultural context.

Initiative 10. We recommend the mission of the colleges be reexamined and possibly altered in light of the societal changes that have occurred since they were founded. A special commission will be charged with the task.

Initiative 11. We will rebuild Wiess College and construct a ninth college in the near future.

Given the importance of the college system for undergraduates, we must ensure that living on campus remains a desirable and affordable option for as many students as possible. Adding a new college will require additional fund-raising and must be balanced against the need to renovate and maintain the existing colleges; in the long run, a new college will largely pay for itself. The need is pressing. We can not continue to force such a large share of our students to live off-campus. Too long a delay in responding to this need will adversely affect the quality and character of undergraduate life at Rice.


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