Andy Spence at Bennington College

Vision and History

To place students at the helm of their own education, to guide them in the direction of their greatest potential, and to expand and deepen their contribution to the world.

A Proving Ground for Education

Bennington College was established in 1932 as a laboratory to explore new approaches in higher education. Its continued emphasis on self-directed learning, made real through hands-on experience in the field, has established Bennington as a bellwether among the nation’s liberal arts colleges.

All Bennington students receive graduate-style advising from faculty who are each active practitioners in their fields, and 100 percent of students graduate with internship experience in the field of their choice.

Change Makers, Groundbreakers, Culture Shapers

In the early 1920s, Bennington College emerged as an idea—an idea shared by a group of forward-thinking educators and civic leaders who believed that America needed a progressive new college to react to and build upon changes in society, technology, and culture. In 1932, with charter and land secured, the College welcomed its first class of 87 students and this idea was given life.

It did not take long for Bennington to distinguish itself as a vanguard institution among American colleges and universities. Dancers flocked to the College in the 1930s and 40s to chart the course of modern dance. In the 1940s and 50s, as Bennington was the first college to include the visual and performing arts as an equal partner in the liberal arts curriculum, painters and sculptors gathered on its campus to redefine the visual arts canon. Always a fertile ground for writers, the 1980s and 90s saw an influx of young talent eager to push the boundaries of contemporary literature. Today, Bennington is a hub yet again, for artists, writers, scientists, scholars—innovators in every field—who want to apply their individual talents to addressing global issues of urgent concern.

Bennington has, in its persistent reinvention of liberal education, remained true to its founding virtues. It has gained stability not from motionlessness but from constant motion, not from states of rest but from unrelenting restlessness. Yet the underlying purpose of Bennington has been clear from the start: to place students at the helm of their own education; to guide them in the direction of their greatest potential; and to enlarge, deepen, and transform their lives.

The Bennington Commencement Statement

Bennington regards education as a sensual and ethical, no less than an intellectual, process. It seeks to liberate and nurture the individuality, the creative intelligence, and the ethical and aesthetic sensibility of its students, to the end that their richly varied natural endowments will be directed toward self-fulfillment and toward constructive social purposes. We believe that these educational goals are best served by demanding of our students’ active participation in the planning of their own programs, and in the regulation of their own lives on campus. Student freedom is not the absence of restraint, however; it is rather the fullest possible substitution of habits of self-restraint for restraint imposed by others. The exercise of student freedom is the very condition of a meaningful education, and an essential aspect of the nurture of free citizens, dedicated to civilized values and capable of creative and constructive membership in modern society.