About the College

Berea’s History and Distinctive Mission

            Since its founding in 1855, Berea College's spiritual foundation, "God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth," has shaped the institution's culture and programs. Founder John G. Fee, an ardent abolitionist, asserted that Berea was founded "in the midst of many privations and persecutions to preach and apply a gospel of impartial love..."Guided by this inclusive Christian message of impartial love, Berea's founders held fast to their radical vision of a college and a community committed to interracial education, to the Appalachian region, and to the equality of all women and men from all "nations and climes." This spiritual heritage compelled Berea College to serve all persons regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or class and led the College to draw its students from two immediate constituencies: African-Americans freed by the American Civil War and "loyal" white mountaineers. Guided by a self-help philosophy, Berea's distinctive character has long been its commitment to seek out promising low-income people in the mountains of Central and Southern Appalachia and provide them a tuition-free education. A significant distinction in the Berea mission is that rather than following the typical tuition-based model, the College early on developed a work program so that its students could take advantage of a private liberal arts education-a tuition free education otherwise unaffordable to them. Today, 80 percent of Berea's students come from Kentucky and the Appalachian region; the remainder come from the rest of the United States and from around the world. In recent years, more than 18 percent of the College's students are African-Americans; 4 percent are Hispanic; 1 percent are Asian; in 2013, international students who represent over 55 countries comprise 7% percent of the student population. Such diversity reveals Berea's openness to all people and prepares Berea students for living in a multicultural world. Likewise, supporting single parents in their academic and personal development echoes Berea's history of rejecting divisions based on class and gender. Recognizing the College's remarkable mission, former President William J. Hutchins described Berea as a place where students build "bridges to the stars."

Revised: 2/2013

Committed to excellence in education

            "Berea's motto and commitments invite... deep learning. A deep learning that fills the head and the heart so that we might serve others... A deep learning that stems from ancient roots but serves well our modern imperatives." The core of Berea's general studies program that is required of all students is distinctly liberal arts in nature, and the liberal arts pervade the design of the College's pedagogy and curriculum. Frequently ranked as the South's finest regional liberal arts college, the College was from the beginning, as former President Francis Hutchins observed, "…both academic and practical. Thus the utilitarian and the practical, the scientific and the spiritual, have always been part of our heritage."  In keeping with the College's mission of life-long learning, faculty and staff are provided with professional development opportunities in the classroom and in the workplace. Endowed chairs provide exemplars of excellence in teaching and leadership and ensure key faculty positions in perpetuity.

Committed to work

            From the beginning, the College's charter promised "opportunities for manual labor as an assistance in self-support." Whether they are assisting in the computer center or maintaining the campus grounds, Berea students integrate productive work, disciplined learning, career exploration, and personal development by working 10 to 15 hours per week in any one of 130 labor departments that range from food service, to handicrafts, to technology, and academic research. Beyond its practical goal of self-help, the College's work program is grounded in the belief that all work has "dignity as well as utility" and that work is service in community. In addition, Berea students really "earn" a portion of their education costs.

Committed to service

            As President John Stephenson wrote, "Berea is, as it has always been, more than just a college. It is ... an opportunity school for all those ... who need what we have to give." Throughout its history, the College has found innovative avenues of service. In earlier days, a mule-drawn book wagon spread literacy and good reading into nearby mountain counties. The original "Opportunity School" provided enrichment in literature, music, and handicrafts for adults in small, remote communities. The "contrast house" was a model home that promoted inexpensive building and interior design, using local resources and traditions.

            Today, Berea students, faculty, and staff work together to address the needs of our communities-both local and national. In combining service and academic activities, faculty and students may develop intellectual, physical, and spiritual characteristics that translate into committed action. Berea's new Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS) assists in coordinating and expanding curricular and co-curricular efforts to encourage students and employees to serve others, whether it be tutoring at risk students, reaching out to mentally and physically challenged persons, assisting in local schools, or other forms of community service. The Brushy Fork Institute cultivates local leadership in Appalachian counties aimed at economic, community, and educational development. The Entrepreneurship for the Public Good Program, which complements the College's internship program, fosters skills in creative problem-solving, collaborative leadership, and calculated risk-taking through classroom instruction as well as internships with small non-profit and community organizations.

Revised: 2/2013

Committed to stewardship of Appalachia

            For generations, Appalachia has been associated with the coal and timber industries, industries that have devastated the environment and produced an uncertain economy. Agriculture has often been merely a subsistence rather than a commercial enterprise. At Berea College, a new Sustainability and Environmental Studies program combines an interdisciplinary curriculum with experiential learning and internships to prepare students for their stewardship of a regional and global environment of finite and fragile resources. In addition, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department has placed new emphasis on small farming and sustainable agriculture methods that reflect the realities of the Appalachian region. Recent building renovations on campus have incorporated environmental concerns with the use of geo-thermal heating/cooling systems, and future work is being addressed through a chair of ecological design, a field that explores the design of structures to reduce their impact on the environment. An ecological village for student families provides opportunities for living out lessons learned in the classroom. Berea's commitment to plain living is made tangible through these new and innovative programs.

Committed to perpetuate its legacy

            Because of its outstanding academic program, Berea College has continued its legacy to identify and respond to the urgent educational, social, and economic needs of the Appalachian region. Berea's strategic plan, Being and Becoming, reaffirmed the College's mission to educate students "to be service-oriented leaders for Appalachia and beyond." In responding to the challenges posed by globalization, information technologies, the environment, and a rapidly changing society, Berea College seeks to strengthen existing programs and to launch new initiatives. As the College moves into the new century with several new programs, it will simultaneously exploit the potential of new information and new technologies to remove constraints on teaching and learning and to perpetuate a bold, distinctive mission in higher education. As former President Willis Weatherford said, "The historic ideals of Berea are our great heritage. Their future realization is our task." Berea's continuing commitments to excellence in learning, to meaningful work, to an ethic of service to the Appalachian region and beyond, and to moral leadership strategically place the College to prepare students for the external realities and opportunities of the information age and global economy-and form a covenant with "all peoples of the earth."