If you ever wondered which college came first in this country, look no further than Dickinson College. Located in Carlisle, PA, Dickinson received its charter on September 9, 1783, which was less than a week after our Revolutionary War was ended by the signing of the Treaty or Paris. Though technically not the oldest college in the USA(that would be Columbia, 1754), Dickinson does have the distinction of being the first one officially ratified under the auspices of the United States of America, as all schools before it would really have been the Queen’s colleges. As a result, this is yet another in a long line of American schools where classes are actually taught amidst the ghosts of some of this country’s notable history.
Originally the Carlisle Grammar School when it was established in 1773, Pennsylvania colonists saw the immediate need for a “frontier college” to address the growing population of Americans who were in need of useful education in the burgeoning new country. Benjamin Rush, noted revolutionary (he signed the Declaration of Independence) and physician of the time, realized that after the guns were silent, education would be the tool needed to fight through our country’s growing years.
Now, what was once a little brick building takes up two blocks of campus space and study programs in almost 25 different countries. The student body consists of around 2300 or so, all of whom are rigorously reviewed by a highly selective board (there’s a 42% acceptance rate). While there is no online distance learning (many online credits aren’t even accepted), there is a decided emphasis on international studies and there are many geographical distance learning opportunities in one of their 40+ exchange and study programs.
Popular majors at Dickinson highlight their continued emphasis on “providing a ‘useful education’ in the liberal arts and sciences”, ranging from International Business & Management to Chemistry. They offer 40+ different Bachelor of Arts or Science degrees, with a curriculum that values the student input as much as the faculty/advisors. Students are encouraged to create their own path through Dickinson, focusing not only on their major, but taking major doses of the “3 major divisions of learning (social sciences, laboratory work, and arts&humanities)” as well as having a physical/athletic requirement (with at least 3 “fitness” courses demanded, it’s no wonder it is routinely mentioned as the most “fit” college in the country).
Students are expected to plot an individual course to graduation, using their freshman year to help get them used to Dickinson’s “community of inquiry”. These first year seminars give them the education and liberal learning mindset to help them chart the rest of their education (it is encourage to not pick majors until sophomore year). Focuses throughout their schooling on everything from writing intensive classes to education with an eye towards engendering critical thinking and understanding equips students with the tools to go on and be successful beyond their college years.
In addition to their Bachelor programs, certification programs are offered, as well as expanded education within a major program. Students are not only expected to pick concentrations within their field of study, but can also add from a list of minors so that many similar graduates leave with very individualized degrees. There is also a major emphasis on cross-cultural studies (as seen in their encouragement in studying abroad), with requirements not only in foreign language, but also in US diversity and comparative civilizations, using education to bring us closer in our understandings of one another. Perhaps, Dickinson is just looking to ensure that knowledge helps in preventing anymore of the wars and uprisings that categorize not just their own history, but that of the world as well.