The Dignity of Labor
Berea College students working outside

The Dignity of Labor

The Dignity of Labor

Berea College commits itself to promote the learning and serving in community through the student Labor Program, honoring the dignity and utility of all work, mental and manual, and taking pride in work well done.

A common myth is that high school graduates have two choices: work or go to college. Berea College does not believe in that separation and hasn’t since its founding in 1855. Educating and developing the whole individual and preparing that individual for success in adulthood means our students put their minds and bodies to work through the labor program.

The program requires all Berea students to work at least 10 hours per week at different campus jobs. In addition to their studies, they work in positions from the dining hall to the president’s office.

Student labor is not only an integral part of daily operations at Berea, it’s essential for a complete learning experience that prepares our students for life after college. When our students enter the professional world, the experience they have gained in the labor program gives them an advantage over graduates from other schools. When employers hire a Berea graduate, they know they are hiring a person with developed professional skillsets and a strong work ethic.

At Berea, we don’t just admit students—we hire them

Number of campus jobs available for students

percentage of students who credited skills they learned in their labor position as supporting academic development

Minimum number of hours each student works each week at a paid on-campus job.

Our students graduate with a labor transcript that will impress future employers.

Past and Present

In 1859, the College created a labor program that enabled students to earn money while providing valuable services to the school as well as the town built around the school. This labor program was formalized in 1906, and in 1996, Berea joined the federally-recognized Work Colleges Consortium (WCC) as a founding member.

Berea College students on labor day

Over the years, the College and its students have run a farm, a bakery, a power plant, a print shop, and a hotel. They’ve raised, prepared, and sold food. They’ve built buildings and learned to maintain them. They’ve produced goods and managed marketing campaigns.

Currently, there are 1,600 intelligent, capable, and motivated student employees at Berea minimizing their debt while gaining valuable work experience. Most of them start by working with their hands in food service, as custodians, or on our farm. As they build independence, industriousness, and an appreciation for manual labor, the students move on to other positions often more in line with their career goals, like accounting or management. In the same way that students progress from 100- to 400-level classes throughout their college careers, students’ labor requirements should come with the expectation of increased responsibility, growth, and knowledge development.

In recent years, Berea began providing students with a labor transcript in addition to the traditional academic transcript. Like the academic transcript, the labor transcript lists every position a student has filled for the College, the level of responsibility, and how well they performed.

In the summers, many build their skillsets further through professional internships, assisted by our Office of Internships and Career Development. By the time they graduate, Berea students hold resumes unmatched by students from other schools. And they leave college ready to work.

The average amount provided to each student for an internship experience.

Berea College funds internship opportunities that help students grow, learn and find their career paths.

Percentage of recent graduates who participated in at least one internship, service-learning course, education abroad or undergraduate research opportunity

Stipend provided for professional clothing

We provide every senior student with funds to buy professional clothing, and we even take them to a department store where a representative helps them make the best choices.

Beyond Berea

Our commitment to students does not end when they graduate. Our Bridge Out support services help students prepare for the professional world through different kinds of assistance. For example, because we serve students of limited means, many cannot afford professional clothing for interviews or everyday wear. Bridge Out support helps cover the cost of a professional wardrobe. It also supports conference attendance for professional development and fees for graduate school exams like the GRE, MCAT, and LSAT.

Berea’s blending of liberal arts education and employment education presents a unique opportunity to discuss how we, as a society, can go about navigating the evolving workforce. We can have conversations about the workplace in relation to race, gender, and the Appalachian region. We can talk about the economics of work at the local, national, and international level, about the loss of manufacturing, right-to-work laws, and ways to create meaningful and satisfying careers.

Emmanuel Tachu '15 in front of Google
Emmanuel's Story

When Emmanuel Tachu ’15 stepped into the Google datacenter in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he took with him a valuable lesson he learned though Berea’s labor program.

Robert Anderson ’78
Robert's Story

Growing up on a North Carolina farm, Robert Anderson ’78 had never seen a computer before coming to Berea College in 1973.