COLLEGE (Collegium), in Roman law, a number of persons associated together by the possession of common functions, - a body of colleagues. Its later meaning applied to any union of persons, and collegium was the equivalent of . In many respects, e.g. in the distinction between the responsibilities and rights of the society and those of individual members thereof, the collegium was what we should now call a corporation (q.v.). Collegia might exist for purposes of trade like the English gilds, or for religious purposes (e.g. the college of augurs, of pontifices, etc.), or for political purposes, e.g. tribunorum plebis collegia. By the Roman law a collegium must have at least three members. The name is now usually applied to educational corporations, such as the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, with which, in the numerous English statutes relating to colleges, the colleges of Winchester and Eton are usually associated. These colleges are in the eye of the law eleemosynary corporations. In some of the earlier statutes of Queen Elizabeth they are spoken of as having an ecclesiastical character, but the doctrine of the common law since the Reformation has been that they are purely lay corporations, notwithstanding that most or all of their members may be persons in priest's orders. This is said to have been settled by Dr Patrick's case (Raymond's Reports, p. 101).
Colleges appear to have grown out of the voluntary association of students and teachers at the university. According to some accounts these must at one time have been numerous and flourishing beyond anything we are now acquainted with. We are told, for example, of 300 halls or societies at Oxford, and 30,000 students. In early times there seems to have been a strong desire to confine the scholars to certain licensed houses beyond the influence of the townspeople. Men of wealth and culture, and notably the political bishops and chancellors of England, obtained charters from the crown for the incorporation of societies of scholars, and these in time became exclusively the places of abode for students attending the university. At the same time the corporations thus founded were not necessarily attached to the locality of the university. The early statutes of Merton College, for example, allow the residence of the college to be shifted as occasion required; and the foundations of Wolsey at Oxford and Ipswich seem to have been the same in intention. In later times (until the introduction of non-collegiate students) the university and the colleges became coextensive; every member of the university had to attach himself to some college or hall, and every person admitted to a college or hall was obliged to matriculate himself in the university.
In Ayliffe's Ancient and Present State of the University of Oxford it is stated that a college must be "made up of three persons (at least) joined in community. And the reason of this almost seems to speak its own necessity, without the help of any express law to countenance it: because among two persons only there cannot be, in fact, a major part; and then if any disagreement should happen to arise between them it cannot be, in fact, brought to a conclusion by such a number alone in case both the parties should firmly adhere to their dissenting opinions; and thus it is declared by the civil law. But by the canon law it is known to be otherwise; for by that law two persons in number may make and constitute a college, forasmuch as according to this law two persons make and constitute an assembly or congregation. The common law of England, or rather the constant usage of our princes in erecting aggregate bodies, which has established this rule among us as a law, has been herein agreeable to the method and doctrine of the civil law, for that in all their grants and charters of incorporation of colleges they have not framed any aggregate body consisting of less than three in number." Another principle, apparently derived from the civil law, is that a man cannot be a fellow in two colleges at the same time. The law of England steadily resisted any attempt to introduce the principle of inequality into colleges. An act of 1542, reciting that divers founders of colleges have given in their statutes a power of veto to individual members, enacts that every statute made by any such founder, whereby the grant or election of the governor or ruler with the assent of the most part of such corporation should be in any wise hindered by any one or more being the lesser number (contrary to the common law), shall be void.
The corporation consists of a head or master, fellows and scholars. Students, not being on the foundation, residing in the college, are not considered to be members of the corporation. The governing body in all cases is the head and fellows.
It is considered essential to corporations of an ecclesiastical or educational character that they should have a Visitor whose duty it is to see that the statutes of the founder are obeyed. The duties of this officer have been ascertained by the courts of law in a great variety of decided cases. Subject to such restrictions as may be imposed on him by the statutes of the college, his duties are generally to interpret the statutes of the college in disputed cases, and to enforce them where they have been violated. For this purpose he is empowered to "visit" the society - usually at certain stated intervals. In questions within his jurisdiction his judgment is conclusive, but his jurisdiction does not extend to any cases under the common laws of the country, or to trusts attached to the college. Generally the visitorship resides in the founder and his heirs unless he has otherwise appointed, and in default of him in the crown.
The fellowships, scholarships, etc., of colleges were until a comparatively recent date subject to various restrictions. Birth in a particular county, education at a particular school, relationship to the founder and holy orders, are amongst the most usual of the conditions giving a preferential or conclusive claim to the emoluments. Most of these restrictions have been or are being swept away. (See Universities; Oxford; Cambridge; etc.)
The term "college" (like "academy") is also applied to various institutions, e.g. to colleges of physicians and surgeons, and to the electoral college in the United States presidential elections, etc. For the Sacred College see Cardinal.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)