September 1, 2013 Updated: September 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm
About 2,000 students will start school at Colorado College on Monday, including 524 freshmen in the class of 2017. Many will get to live in relative luxury.
The private, liberal arts college just completed a $14 million renovation of one of the campus's largest residence halls.
The freshman and sophomore complex, built in 1953 on the northwest corner of Cache la Poudre Street and North Nevada Avenue, has been updated with energy-efficient features such as low-flow toilets and lights that automatically switch on and off.
Interior space has been reconfigured to create larger areas for students to study and hang out. The first floor has a lounge, and there are numerous study rooms and high-top tables for group projects.
President Jill Tiefenthaler said the dorm that houses 261 students has "the warmth of home and also classroom space where living and learning are blended."
"Providing students with cooperative space and socializing space supports what happens in the curriculum," she said.
The bridgeway on the west side of the building has been expanded with a glass enclosure that adds more natural light to a kitchen and dining area. Students also have more wireless access points, an outdoor patio for barbecuing and a volleyball court.
The freshman class includes 21 first-generation students, nine black belts, a student who designed and created a wind-powered iPhone charger, a student who traveled the Oregon Trail by wagon, one circus acrobat, a few who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and five Eagle Scouts. There also are 38 students transferring to CC from other schools.
Tiefenthaler said it was another record year for applications, with about 5,800 vying for the 524 freshman slots.
But the college is staying the course and not increasing enrollment, even though it has been on a path of building expansion and remodeling for several years.
Tiefenthaler, who is entering her third year in heading the college, gained trustee approval for a strategic plan in July and last week unveiled it to the college community.
One of the fundamental themes is that CC will not follow the current trend of higher education to scale back on liberal arts curriculum in favor of job training programs and online instruction.
"We continue to be a very small institution focused on immersive education for a small number of students. The online movement is about scale and building numbers. Ours is personalized and focused education," Tiefenthaler said.
In charting its future, CC is reaffirming its commitment to liberal arts education and the academic schedule known as the block plan, in which students take one class for 31/2 weeks for nine months. Invented at CC and adopted in 1970, the block plan continues to be popular, Tiefenthaler said.
"This generation is attracted to it for its engaged and hands-on learning," she said. "By only taking one course at a time, there's opportunity for more field study and international study."
Tiefenthaler spent the first year of her post hearing about CC's strengths and weaknesses from about 4,400 students, faculty and staff, alumni, trustees and community members. Three-fourths of those who contributed their thoughts attended meetings held in 12 cities around the nation.
Soliciting such broad-based input has created excitement on the 139-year-old campus, Tiefenthaler said, as the ideas put forth are moving to the action phase.
This academic year will see the launch of summer programs, such as college-to-work courses and themed programs in arts, film, pre-med and other subjects.
New programs during the nine-day break in early January as well as half blocks for students returning to campus after studying abroad also are planned.
The college plans to create an academic support center for faculty and students, develop an incubator for students to develop and test ideas, enhance the aesthetics of the campus, encourage more field trips, offer travel-study programs for parents and alumni and provide additional professional development for faculty and staff.
Also, Tiefenthaler said a committee is forming to study the design of a potential $40 million renovation of Tutt Library. Funding would come from foundations, alumni and parents, she said.
Minor remodeling soon will begin at the Spencer Center, a historic administrative building, to improve energy efficiency and update some features.
In the coming months, Tiefenthaler again will travel to the 12 cities with high concentrations of alumni and parents, which she visited two years ago to get input on what direction CC should take.
This time, she'll talk about how those suggestions have been incorporated into the new strategic plan - which she expects to take seven to 10 years to implement.
She will discuss the ambitious plan in Colorado Springs from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in Packard Hall, during homecoming weekend.