Berea College - For Curiosity's Sake

In another thread, it came up that @ClutchLinkey had gone to Berea College.

I’ve long had a fascination with Berea, because it is AFAIK unique in the States, if not the world. It really seems to walk the walk, in every way. Or is that just hype, and it really doesn’t fulfill its promise after all?

So this thread is to hear more, from anyone, about Berea in particular and the concept of a working college in general. I don’t want to focus the discussion too much, because the point is I don’t know enough.

Here’s a quote from an Atlantic article from a few years ago to give people a quick sense of the school:

Berea College isn’t like most other colleges. It was founded in 1855 by a Presbyterian minister who was an abolitionist. It was the first integrated, co-educational college in the South. And it has not charged students tuition since 1892. Every student on campus works, and its labor program is like work-study on steroids.


Thanks for starting the thread!
I attended Berea from 1999 - 2004, graduating with a double major in German and Sustainability and Environmental Sciences. The 2nd was a self-designed major at the time, but I think it’s now official.
During my time there, it definitely did walk the walk. I got to be part of designing and then actually building a campus eco village to house married students and students with children, complete with a child care facility for residents’ children (where students studying childhood development could work) and a “living machine” wastewater treatment greenhouse (which was later modified for aquaculture and other school research).
I’m happy to share more, but don’t want to go on too much. The work experience alone was life-changing.
I’ll just shortly add that during my time at Berea I was able to spend a semester interning at a lab in Brisbane, Australia, a summer interning at an eco village in northern Germany, a semester studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, and graduated with a sum total of $6000 in student loans to pay off.
If you’re interested in other work colleges, there is a consortium:


I"m really impressed with all of the outside work/internship/study abroad opportunities available to students at a SMALL college. Their networking must be top-notch.

Does that help with finding work once graduated, as well?


I’m also interested in student life, because I have to assume it would be so very different than the usual 4-years-partying-and-missing-class that it seems so many colleges have turned into. I assume the student body is on average more mature (even if not chronologically older) due to having family responsibilities and probably working from a young age. It’s the sort of place that I think would have been an excellent fit for me, if only I’d known at the time.

We’re not paying by keystroke here, so say as much as you want, whenever you want, about whatever you think might be of interest!


That is actually awesome. This should be done with a lot more colleges.


I don’t know how it works at other schools, but professors were actively involved in making opportunities available. My Australian internship (or at least, us hearing about it) was due to a partnership between a professor in the Ag. Dept. (I started as an Ag. major) and a colleague at the USDA, which has a sister lab in Brisbane. The language department helped me hook up with the organization that found my german internship, and of course the study abroad.

Definitely. Just the connections you make are amazing. I didn’t end up going down that route, but I had offers.
More on the student labor - In the time I was there, I worked in the gardens and greenhouses (which had a CSA and were transitioning to organic), the farm (raised cattle, hogs, lambs, goats later, and much of the fodder for those animals - and I mean working: I did midnight checks during lambing season, tilled and planted fields on the weekends, fed and watered cattle on cold wintery days, castrated piglets (worst morning ever, btw, no lunch for me!), the photo lab, construction of the ecovillage (from foundation work to framing), and eventually settled in as a sustainability outreach coordinator leading natural building workshops, running student programs, etc. But one of my best friends got a job cleaning the library at night and stuck with that the whole time. He said, “I just want to find the easiest thing to do and not work hard.” So you definitely get out what you put into it.
But art major friends worked in the art department and got to set up exhibitions and record artworks for the archives, so they graduated with really valuable skills on top of their fine art skills, arguably making them more employable than art students from other schools.

So, this is slowly changing, but Berea is a dry town in a “■■■■■” county*. I did not know this when I arrived, but it was the best thing. You had to drive 15 miles north to the nearest town that sold beer, and car ownership on campus was restricted, so you had to really want to drink/party. I mean, there were still little house parties, but nothing like the bar scene up the road in Lexington. You could feel it in the whole town. Walking around at night alone was never a cause for concern, maybe b/c there weren’t any rowdy drunks out and about.

And the school would host a series of cultural convocations, usually on Thursday evenings. Students had to attend at least 8, but I went to almost all of them. I saw traditional Japanese shadow puppet theater, saw Ravi Shankar perform, heard Malcolm X’s daughter, Attalah Shabazz speak, the list goes on and on. All free to students, several open to the public.

I bet! I wish you would have stumbled upon it at the right time. Maybe we would’ve been classmates.
I didn’t go straight from HS to college, but spent 5 years hitchhiking around, sleeping in the woods or behind dumpsters, or later when I made it big, in a van, and working various service industry jobs before I realized I was ready for college. It was blind luck that I learned about it, and got in. In my opinion, it’s a great opportunity for anyone who finds it, but I think my prior experience definitely contributed to me getting so much out of it.

The sense of community in that place was amazing. It’s jaded me. I now live in an area with a small liberal arts college which charges something like $45,000 annual tuition and makes it relatively clear that “townspeople” aren’t really meant to enjoy any of the facilities or interact with the college community :frowning:

*I don’t know why it’s blocking that word, but it’s the synonym of partially wet; damp. It means some towns in a county could sell booze, but some could not.


Oh, PS, it’s also deep in the Bible Belt, so about a third of the students (especially concentrated in the Ag. Dept.) are very religious and only memorize the facts they need to about geology, evolution of pests to resist pesticides, etc., enough to regurgitate them on tests then remind themselves that “evolution isn’t real.” It’s kind of hilarious conundrum.

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Now THAT surprises me. I would have thought the sort of person interested in a school like that would be more open to the diverse wonders of the world…a Wendell Berry type, for example.


I think that’s the rub. There was a marked difference between students who actively sought out (or quite blissfully stumbled upon) this place versus those for whom it was perhaps the only option. And they were all nice folks. But they were there to learn about farming (in my particular example), then go back home and make the family farm last another generation or two.
The school started with the mission of teaching people of all races and genders about the things Appalachia most needed its people to know: nursing, agriculture, and teaching. And they did and have been doing that successfully, to a really broad group of learners.

Oh, and ETA - Wendell Berry’s daughter applied around my time, and she didn’t get in because she wasn’t income eligible! A favorite professor I remember complained that maybe it would have been worth it to waive the requirement that once…


Also, part of learning about the history of the college while I was there included the lessons that it wasn’t always peaceful. I heard tales of drive-by shootings from horse-drawn carriages in the early years.

But hopefully to prevent this from becoming a “Clutch extolls the amazingness of Berea” thread, I’m really interested to hear from others here who’ve had experience at work colleges, as learners or staff.
Or even experiences with non work colleges and how you think a work component might have fit in. I agree with this:

So much. But I’m clearly biased.


Deep Springs is a working ranch, staffed by the students. Cooper Union used to have free tuition for all students from its endowment, but it is a tough model for a private school to sustain. (ETA: not meaning in any way to detract from Berea’s distinctiveness.)


It’s a thing here at the BBS. Can’t remember how it started, but I’m sure someone here knows. There are all sorts of tricks you can employ to use the word, but at this point most regular posters here know exactly what you’ve typed when they see the 5 boxes in a row.


As @chgoliz stated crafty non space HTML tags witll fix that for you.
Also it is blocked because it amuses one of best mutants who contribute to the site.


Well, I then moistly thank you for that moistish insight :wink:


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