A residential college is an organisational pattern for a division of a university that places academic activity in a community setting of students and faculty, usually at a residence and with shared meals, the college having a degree of autonomy and a federated relationship with the overall university. However, the term residential college is also used to describe a variety of other patterns, ranging from a dormitory with some academic programming, to continuing education programs for adults lasting a few days. In some parts of the world it simply refers to any organized on-campus housing, an example being University of Malaya.
Various models of residential college
Prominent models for residential colleges are the colleges of the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the institutions based on them in the United States, including Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Binghamton University, Murray State University, Murray, KY  Rice University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Miami, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Many other institutions use the system as well. Other universities in the U.S. have recently begun implementing residential colleges as a housing option, but, unlike the aforementioned institutions, at these universities not all of the undergraduate students are members of a residential college. Princeton University has a residential college system for underclassmen, but most upperclassmen leave their college to join an Eating Club. At Fordham University, first-year students may choose to live in one of two residential colleges on campus, which integrate dining services, social activity and the college's core curriculum. Cornell University recently expanded its residential college system by razing much of its present upperclassmen housing and building five new residential colleges. At the University of Virginia, students may apply to live in one of three residential colleges; acceptance rates vary widely.
In the United States, the academic and residential functions of the residential college system have separated somewhat, leaving the colleges primarily as housing systems. Although residential colleges still offer some classes, these offerings supplement the offerings of the major academic departments which have separate facilities. The primary difference in the U.S. between residential colleges and standard dormitories is often that students are a member of the same residential college for each year that they attend the university. In addition, the members of each residential college are usually expected to eat their meals together, as a unified body. Standard dormitories tend to have residents who move between dorm complexes every year, and who eat in dining halls largely mixed with residents of other dormitories.
In the United Kingdom, a residential college combines both the living and academic aspects of the university in one location. Students often take their classes on the lower floors of the college building and live in the upper floors. Apart from the obvious models of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Durham University has residential colleges that operate rather differently from those of Oxford and Cambridge, while the Universities of Kent, Lancaster and York have developed internal collegiate systems. The University of London has an extensive federated college system that is, in effect, a confederation of major teaching and research institutions rather than residential colleges. The University of Dublin (founded 1592) is unique in that only has one constituent college, Trinity College.
Many universities in Canada have emulated the collegiate systems of some British universities. York University and the University of Toronto has a federated college system including a number of "federated colleges" and "constituent colleges". Other Canadian universities with residential colleges include Trent University and its colleges, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Waterloo, the University of Manitoba, and the University of British Columbia. Three Canadian residential colleges are distinguished by being for graduate students rather than undergraduates — Green and St. John's Colleges at UBC, and Massey College at the University of Toronto.
In Australia, colleges perform different functions at different universities. Colleges at the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney provide academic, sporting and cultural programs in addition to those offered by their parent institution. However, they only serve a small fraction of the university population. By point of comparison, the colleges at the Australian National University and Monash University focus on the provision of accommodation.
In India, Pantnagar University is an example of a residential college.
Experiences with the residential college model
Because of the many interpretations of the residential college concept, and its use at many universities and institutions, there are many experiences of how the concept plays out at various times and at various institutions. Some particularly illustrative experiences are summarised here.
With only three residential colleges for graduate students in Canada — Green and St. John's Colleges at the University of British Columbia, and Massey College at the University of Toronto — there is a sense that part of the work of these colleges is to explore a Canadian approach to the residential college model, and "to blend quality and prestige on the one hand, and enrichment of the campus on the other, while avoiding elitism or imitation".
In 1999 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took stock of its housing system, and studied a variety of residence models in "Reinventing residence life @ MIT". Particularly relevant is their report "A Creative Tension", about the Cambridge college system.
In Italy, the residential college model was adopted in 2003 by all of Milan universities, according to a joint program developed in collaboration with several private and public institutions, such as Microsoft and the Lombardy Region, at the Collegio di Milano.
- "Residential college". University of Malaya.
- "Oxford University Colleges and Halls". Oxford University web site. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- "The Colleges of the University". University of Cambridge website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Harvard College Office of Residential Life (2008). "History of the House System". Retrieved 2008-04-20.
- "Residential Life". Yale University Office of Undergraduate Admissions website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- "Residential Colleges". Princeton University Website. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
- Residential Colleges http://www.murraystate.edu/CampusLife/ResidentialColleges.aspx[dead link]
- "About the residential college system". Rice University website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- O’Hara, Robert J. "Residential Colleges Worldwide". The Collegiate Way website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Green College, UBC. "Purpose of the College". Green College UBC website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Residence System Steering Committee, MIT. "Reinventing residence life @ MIT". MIT Residence System Steering Committee website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- Beland, Chris; Matthew Belmonte, Abbe Cohen, Jason Gratt, Yvonne Lai, Alice Man, Sarah McDougal (1999-04-26). "A Creative Tension". MIT Residence System Steering Committee website. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- O’Hara, Robert J. "The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges and the Renewal of Campus Life". The Collegiate Way website. Retrieved 2007-01-02. A portal featuring related information, news, and links about the residential college idea.
- "Residential Colleges". Encyclopedia of Education. Archived from the original on 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2005-11-10. Appears to be off-line as of 2007-01-02.