The Berea College Labor Program


Students gain valuable work experience serving the College and the community.

Student Set Building

Labor is embedded in the history of Berea College. From its earliest days, Berea has enabled students to contribute to the cost of their education while gaining valuable work experience serving the college and surrounding communities. Historically, Berea’s Labor Program also allowed the College to operate in a self-sustaining manner, with students growing their own food and building their own living and learning facilities. As society has changed, the nature of the work has changed, but the underlying principles of the program have remained constant through the years.

The Labor Program originated in 1859 and was formalized into every student’s educational experience in 1906, when the College Catalog declared that every student must contribute at least seven hours per week to the necessary work of the College. The weekly labor requirement for students was raised to at least 10 hours in 1917, a requirement that remains in effect today (students must also carry a full academic load).

Long an integral component of Berea’s educational program, the Labor Program provides valuable opportunities for learning, service and work well done. Today, students choose work options in more than 100 college and off-campus programs, with over 1,500 jobs available on campus and in off-campus community partnerships. Each student is supervised by at least one faculty member or professional staff person selected by the department head. Additionally, most departments have labor mentors – individuals who are not directly charged with supervisory responsibilities, but who actively participate in student training and development. Many departments also have students serving in supervisory/leadership roles. Students are encouraged to experience a variety of work environments to maximize their learning opportunities and expose themselves to different work styles.

The value of student work is reinforced in Berea College’s Great Commitments, first published in 1969 and revised in 1993. The fourth Great Commitment affirms Berea’s commitment “to provide for all students through the Labor Program experiences for learning and serving in community, and to demonstrate that labor, mental and manual, has dignity as well as utility.”

Ecological Machine

Since 1921, Labor Day at Berea College has recognized and celebrated the value of student work. In 2011, the day was expanded to reflect a Labor Program that is more intentionally integrated with academics and service. Labor Day now provides the opportunity for all Berea students to explore the intersections of learning, labor and service through a series of events, workshops and open houses. Labor Day 2016 at Berea College takes place on March 1; a day during which the historic and current impact of the Labor Program is celebrated and when departments and students start planning for labor positions for the coming school year.

The Student Labor Program at Berea is based on an understanding and expectation of labor as student- and learning-centered; as service to the College and broader community, and as providing necessary work (work that needs to be done) being done well. Students, faculty and staff at Berea are engaged in a continuous learning environment that encourages all workers to be active learners, workers and servers, in a place where the Christian values of human compassion, dignity and equality are expressed and lived. Therefore Berea has a set of Workplace Expectations; coupled with the institution’s mission to educate the whole person, these expectations complement academic learning, build community through shared work and prepare students for entry into a life of work after graduation.

Student Crafts

Labor assignments function very much like classes. Beginning at basic levels of work, students are expected to progress to more skilled and responsible levels. Through these experiences, it is expected that student workers will: 1) develop good work habits and attitudes; 2) gain an understanding of personal interests, skills and limitations; and 3) exercise creativity, problem-solving and responsibility. Students may also learn the qualities of leadership, standard setting and effective supervision. The Labor Program makes it possible for students to know each other as co-workers as well as classmates. More importantly, linking the Academic and Labor Programs establishes a pattern of learning through work that continues long after college is completed.

Because student education at Berea involves academic and work components, there are transcripts for both. All students participate in an evaluation process of their work which parallels their academic grades. Evaluation promotes student learning and professional development in the workplace, establishes standards consistent with the Workplace Expectations and Labor Learning Goals, creates a documented work performance history for each student and fulfills Berea College and federal compliance guidelines.

The program is an integral and stated part of the educational program as mandated by the Department of Education Work Colleges legislation. It is a competency-based (rather than credit hour-based) model of learning. It has clearly defined student learning goals and expected outcomes which are regularly reviewed by the College’s Labor Program Council.

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Through the Labor Program, students gain valuable workplace experience, earn money for books, food and other expenses, and their appreciation for the dignity and utility of labor is enhanced.

Categories: News, Programs and Initiatives
Tags: Commitment, Labor Program, Students

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 40 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.