Students work out in the Roe Howard Fitness Center in The Commons. The facility offers a Universal weight machine and cardiovascular exercise equipment such as treadmills, stair steppers, bikes, and elliptical machines. Four television sets can be heard through personal headsets attached to any machine.
Chef Stevan Hanson '85 prepares food at one of the many stations students can visit during meals in the dining halls.
Twenty years ago, college students took physical education classes. Today, they expect to have access to a fitness center and a full array of wellness services.
Back then, students didn’t hang out in coffeehouses typing on wireless laptops. They didn’t catch up with friends on cell phones between classes. And they had never heard of suite-style residence halls. They also couldn’t have imagined conducting research for their senior thesis project from the comfort of their own residence hall room computer.
In the past several decades, all of these things and more have become an indispensable part of the college experience, altering the culture and landscape at Cornell College and in higher education across the nation.
Jonathan Stroud, Cornell College vice president for enrollment and dean of admission, says that in response to rising student expectations, it has become clear that colleges must adapt accordingly, enhancing not only their academic offerings but also campus services and facilities. At Cornell, that has meant making slow but steady changes to everything from where students live and the activities they participate in to where they eat and the ways they access information.
Stroud explains that campuses nationwide have made these changes as a direct result of a major shift in higher education that began after the enrollment boom of the 1980s. A decline in the number of high school graduates in the 1990s forced many colleges to compete more aggressively for students through increased financial assistance. Ultimately, however, marketing-savvy institutions realized that students and their families were willing to invest in quality higher education. The challenge was to validate quality in the face of greater public scrutiny, such as the ranking of colleges, most notably by U.S. News & World Report.
“Students see themselves as consumers of higher education and, as a result, are more likely to involve themselves in comparison shopping,” Stroud says. “As the cost of education has continued to rise, students’ and parents’ expectations also have risen regarding the type of academic programs, endowment levels, financial aid, alumni success, and facilities. This means we must be able to meet the litmus test of today’s student, whether in response to demands for information about institutional reputation, special study opportunities, attractive and convenient living spaces, or co-curricular programming. We also need to provide at least the minimum level of amenities that they are going to find on nearly every other campus.”
To that end, Cornell has in recent years hardwired all of its buildings for Internet service and is beginning to add wireless access—Cole Library and The Commons are now wireless and College Hall will be by fall. The college also has opened a Starbucks coffeehouse in The Commons, added cable TV to all residence hall rooms, expanded food service options to include meal plans that give students more choices of where and when they want to eat, built its first suite-style residence hall, renovated the fine arts facilities, and opened a new fitness center.