Many dreams don’t last, but one man’s vision has grown for 175 years to affect the lives of thousands. Nestled on the original 80 acre plot of the Midwestern prairie, deeded by then president Martin Van Buren, a unique educational community has grown from its founding roots in 1837.
Many small colleges can trace their roots back one hundred years or more, but few can claim the effect they have had on young adults for decades. Blackburn College stands out as a unique, one-of-a-kind liberal arts college that has provided an unparalleled educational opportunity.
Rev. Gideon Blackburn founded the college as an educational institution to serve the young people of central Illinois. The college continued to offer educational opportunities through the 19th century, until it fell on hard times in the early 1900’s. The campus had fallen into a state of disrepair and the college was searching for a new president. William Hudson, arriving in 1913 as the 12th president of Blackburn, created a self-sufficiency program for the college that has evolved into the Blackburn Work Program of today. What started as a way to save the college by having each student work for the school has become an integral part of campus functions and the students’ educational experience.
One of seven work colleges in the U.S., and the only one with a student managed Work Program, Blackburn offers a rigorous academic program while requiring all students to work a minimum of ten hours per week for the college. This special hybrid of academics and work, serves to provide an educational experience combining scholarship, job skills, management and supervisory experience, and real world work experience. Blackburn graduates have proven time and time again that they are very prepared for graduate school and the work place. Employers cite the impressive abilities of these students to learn quickly, understand work place protocols and easily take on additional responsibilities.
Students have always come to Blackburn from central Illinois and with a strong contingent from the Chicago area, although there has been a continual, small representation from all areas of the country. Forty percent of the students are first generation college students, the first in their families to attend college. In additional to the valuable experience it provides, the Work Program also yields a credit against tuition costs, making the college more affordable for these students.
“Blackburn has a wonderful history of serving a large number of first generation college students,” noted Mim Pride, Blackburn College President. “Our goal is to provide these students from working class families a quality liberal arts education at an affordable price. Our almost 100 year, historical innovation with the student-managed Work Program helps reduce tuition costs and allows our students to gain additional real world work experience that prepares them for exceptional
achievement in the workplace after graduation. Blackburn truly is a one-of-a-kind educational experience for our students.”
Over thirty academic majors are currently offered at Blackburn including more popular majors such as Biology, Chemistry, Business, Education, and Criminal Justice. Most faculty members have terminal degrees in their field and maintain close ties with students both inside and outside the classroom. With a Blackburn degree, along with the guidance and mentoring of faculty and staff during their college years, ninety percent of graduates are accepted into graduate school or find employment upon graduation.
The Work Program has had a tremendous effect on the college and its students. Over the years, students have built Blackburn – literally brick by brick. In fact, Blackburn enjoys the distinction of being the only college campus in the United States to have been largely built by its students. Since the creation of the Work Program in 1913, ten buildings on campus have been constructed using student workers including dormitories, the library, athletic facilities, academic buildings, and the administration building.
The combination of a nationally acclaimed Work Program and a rigorous liberal arts academic curriculum creates a unique campus culture where students are fully vested in every aspect of their college experience, whether it’s success in the classroom, managing or staffing their campus job or in governing the life of the institution. This educational opportunity provides each student with a four-year head start on their professional career, combining academic and work experience during their undergraduate years.
This uniqueness of the college has not gone unnoticed. Blackburn was ranked by US News as the 2012 #2 Best Value College in the Midwest. Washington Monthly lists Blackburn as #65 in 2011 among Baccalaureate Colleges, and the college’s tuition remains the lowest of all private, four-year residential colleges in Illinois.