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Welcome to Blackburn College


There is no other college or university in the United States quite like Blackburn College. Our unique campus culture is the byproduct of the purposeful melding of our nationally acclaimed student-managed Work Program and rigorous liberal arts academic curriculum. The result is a unique living laboratory for learning where the boundaries between job and classroom are blurred, and mentoring from faculty and staff knows no clock.

Since 1913, Blackburn’s student managed Work Program has made the dream of a college education affordable for thousands of first generation students by keeping the cost of our private liberal arts education within their reach. Over the years, our 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. Today our students carry on this tradition by staffing mission critical jobs as plumbers, carpenters, painters, landscapers, cooks, servers, administrators, computer technicians, janitors, graphic artists, security officers, assistant coaches, tutors and teaching assistants.

At Blackburn, 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.

Blackburn Builds Character


Each student that enrolls at Blackburn as an on-campus resident does so knowing that he or she will be required to participate in the Work Program. They do so with the understanding that they may be assigned to their ideal job – or perhaps not. Student workers report to student supervisors that have a full range of managerial responsibilities including job training, scheduling, performance reviews and disciplinary action.

The Work Program is administered by two student general managers that bear full responsibility for approximately 500 student employees. Although there are seven work colleges in the United States, Blackburn’s is the only program that is student managed.

In addition to working 10 to 15 hours per week, Blackburn’s students are engaged in a challenging academic environment. Small class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, and although professors come to know their students well in and out of the classroom, the expectation is that academics come first despite the demands we place on our students.

In life outside of the classroom and their jobs, Blackburn’s students manage their own clubs and organizations and play an active role in governing the College as members of the Student Senate, Planning Committee and Budget Task Force.

As an NCAA Division III school, Blackburn affords its students an opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics in 5 men’s and 7 women’s sports including cross country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis and golf. It’s a commitment made by nearly 40% of the College’s student body.

Balancing their obligation to academics, work, student life, college governance, and athletics places incredible demands on our students. Blackburn strengthens the character of its students by forcing them to confront real world issues with real world solutions. The John M. Templeton Foundation agrees, citing Blackburn as one of America’s character-building colleges in its most recent publication.

Blackburn Builds Leaders


Blackburn’s unique culture requires that its students learn to work in a team environment in order to accomplish common goals – whether in the classroom, workplace, athletic field or committee. Within this realm, opportunities for leadership emerge as students work together to solve problems or create new ways to conduct the work of the College.

For the student willing to take advantage of these opportunities, the potential for personal growth is significant. The College has historically been a magnet for first-generation students, who in their drive to succeed have found Blackburn’s culture stimulating, and a place where their personalities can be molded into that of true leaders. As a consequence, Blackburn alumni have risen to become leaders of very prominent organizations:

  • CEO of Kodak; President of Rand McNally Book Manufacturing; CEO of General Re Corporation;
  • President of Allstate International; and President of Binghamton University.

Blackburn is an institution where initiative flourishes and the seeds of entrepreneurial behavior are sown. Consequently many alumni have gone on to create and run successful businesses in a wide variety of industries. Blackburn alumni have become high school principals, an Illinois State Senator, U.S. Congressman, and Commander of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

Blackburn has always asked much of its students and in doing so, provides the leaders within its student body with some of their first significant opportunities to demonstrate their capacity to lead.

Blackburn Builds Inquisitive Minds


Blackburn students are given a rigorous and distinctive liberal arts education designed to instill a love for learning that is intended to last a lifetime. Whether the student’s next step is graduate education or entering the workforce, Blackburn graduates have always been well-prepared to continue their “education”.

At Blackburn, our culture has created a community that allows students to enjoy close relationships with their professors. With these close relationships come opportunities for learning that don’t exist on other campuses. As lab assistants, teaching assistants and tutors, our students work alongside their professors and are given opportunities to participate in significant research and take on roles and responsibilities that most colleges typically assign to graduate students.

This climate of accountability has been especially effective in the College’s department of Natural Sciences. From this dynamic environment where undergraduate students have long accompanied their professors to conferences for the presentation of scholarly papers have come hundreds of Blackburn graduates who’ve gone on to become physicians, dentists, veterinarians and Ph.D.’s.

In elementary and secondary education classrooms throughout Illinois and the United States, children are challenged and inspired to achieve their potential by graduates of Blackburn’s Teacher Education program

Our culture provides students with intellectual stimuli in every aspect of their campus experience with faculty and staff ready to mentor them every step of the way.

Blackburn Builds Community

Every day, as has been the practice for nearly 100 years, Blackburn’s students have risen early and left their dorms to carry on the essential work of the College. Once, students milked cows and stoked a coal furnace to generate heat for the campus. Now, as technologies have evolved and new needs have arisen, campus jobs have evolved as well, with students tackling computer networking and software problems and providing a safe and secure campus by patrolling the campus as members of the College’s security force. Of course, some jobs never change so trash cans must be emptied, floors mopped and toilets scrubbed.

There is an interdependency that exists at Blackburn that fosters life long friendships and a very strong sense of community. The College depends upon its students to cut the grass, edge the sidewalks and to clear walkways and parking lots after a snowfall. Science faculty couldn’t maintain their readiness to teach without student lab assistants to care for live animal specimens and to maintain plants in the greenhouses. Faculty in the Teacher Education program rely on students to staff Blackburn’s literacy outreach program to neighboring school districts. And students in need of academic help turn to tutors, their peers. Students in turn are given mentoring and support from their professors as well as staff in whose departments they work.

Within this microcosm of society that is Blackburn College, our students learn to be adaptable, and to understand the true meaning of community and service to others so that when they graduate from our world, we send them into the larger world fully prepared to be responsible and productive citizens.