Innovative Program Helps Nontraditional Students Earn Free Liberal Arts Degrees at the Library in Partnership with Bard College
Brooklyn, NY–The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Brooklyn Public Library an $850,000 grant to extend Bard at BPL, the only library-based college degree program in the nation.
The program is designed to help underserved individuals—who been previously excluded or deterred from higher education—find a path for economic mobility, meaningful work and intellectually engaged lives. The grant provides additional support to the tuition-free liberal arts degree program; Andrew W. Mellon Foundation also funded the 2017 launch of Bard at BPL.
“The Bard-Brooklyn Public Library microcollege challenges us to reconsider how non-traditional students can gain access to a high quality college education,” noted Mellon Foundation Senior Program Officer Eugene M. Tobin. “The practices of public libraries have much to offer as models by virtue of their remarkable adaptability, nimbleness, and inclusive ethos.”
Together, BPL and Bard provide critical resources for classroom success including dedicated classrooms and study spaces within Brooklyn Public Library, financial and academic support, and social services to help students manage a wide range of issues from stress to employment and housing.
“For people who have been deterred, discouraged or excluded from higher education in the past, Bard at BPL provides hope and opportunity. The students currently enrolled have begun a remarkable journey, making positive changes in their own lives, in their communities and indeed in the world,” said Linda Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library. “We are incredibly grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its ongoing and generous support of this transformational program.”
With a fourth cohort now under way, the grant will be used to purchase additional books and technology, fund administrative costs and staff, and support a broad range of enrichment activities.
Building on the success of the Bard Prison Initiative, Bard at BPL is a fully accredited associate in arts degree program. Small cohorts of students take classes at the Library—taking full advantage of BPL’s collections and programs—and graduate with Bard College degrees. Like students enrolled at Bard College’s main campus, Bard at BPL students are required to take academically rigorous classes in their first year, including: Language & Thinking; First-Year Seminar, Part I; First-Year Seminar, Part II: Antigone; Grammar for Writers; Grammar, Rhetoric, and Style; and Citizen Science.
The partnership disrupts traditional expectations about the kind of students who will succeed in college, impacting not only individual students but the communities where they live and work.
“Across the city, alumni of the Bard Prison Initiative are making extraordinary contributions in a variety of fields,” says BPI’s executive director Max Kenner. “Bard at BPL is the first New York City campus run by BPI. It’s a home both for students enrolling with Bard for the first time and for others who are formerly incarcerated. Microcollege students are already making their mark at the Library, developing clear voices, building a vibrant community, and preparing to make unique contributions to civic life in Brooklyn."
The first group of Bard at BPL students will graduate in 2020.
About Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is an independent library system for the 2.5 million residents of Brooklyn. It is the sixth largest library system in the United States with 59 neighborhood libraries located throughout the borough. BPL offers free programs and services for all ages and stages of life, including a large selection of books in more than 30 languages, author talks, literacy programs and public computers. BPL’s eResources, such as eBooks and eVideos, catalog information and free homework help, are available to customers of all ages 24 hours a day at our website.
About Bard Prison Initiative
The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) works to redefine the availability, affordability, and expectations typically associated with higher education in America. For twenty years, BPI has created groundbreaking opportunities for college within America’s prison systems. These programs transform the negative impacts of criminal punishment and create radical inroads of access and opportunity to higher learning. Today, BPI enrolls over 300 incarcerated students full-time in programs that culminate in degrees from Bard College; it offers extensive support for its alumni in and around New York City. BPI also uses its 20 years of experience to help other colleges and universities launch and operate ambitious college-in-prison programs through technical assistance, training program leaders through a practice-based Residency, and leading the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison.
The Bard Microcollege further expands the scope and impact of this work, delivering high-quality liberal arts education to communities outside of prison through partnerships with community-based institutions. Bard Microcollege graduates earn Bard College associate degrees and are prepared to launch careers and transfer to complete bachelor's degrees at other colleges and universities.