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The Evolution of an Educational Innovation

Halls at GroudbreakingBard College at Simon’s Rock was founded in 1966 based on the idea that many bright, motivated students are ready for serious intellectual work at the age of 16 or 17. Created through the vision of Elizabeth Blodgett Hall, the College’s founder and first president, Simon’s Rock became the nation’s first early college. Since then the early college movement has gained considerable momentum, yet Simon’s Rock remains unique in the early college landscape as the only college in the United States specifically designed to provide bright students with the opportunity to begin college after the tenth or eleventh grade.

betty-hall.jpgSimon’s Rock opened as a women’s school in the fall of 1966 and offered its students a four-year program that combined the last two years of high school and the first two years of college—concluding with an associate of arts (AA) degree. In 1970, the first graduates received their degrees. That same year the College became a coeducational campus. By 1974, Simon’s Rock restructured and eliminated its high school component entirely. Through the support from the National Science Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation, the College developed its bachelor of arts (BA) program. With the introduction of its first BA concentrations, Simon’s Rock became what it has remained ever since: A four-year college of the liberal arts and sciences designed expressly to educate young, bright, motivated scholars.

Like many colleges founded in the 1960s, Simon’s Rock struggled with the pressures of inadequate resources and turned to President Leon Botstein of Bard College, who had a distinct appreciation for early college, having himself entered the University of Chicago at the age of 16. President Botstein fully understood the significance of Simon’s Rock and the importance of the early college mission. In 1979, Simon’s Rock became part of Bard College, one of the nation’s most outstanding and innovative liberal arts colleges—located 50 miles from the Simon’s Rock campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. While Simon’s Rock has retained its unique identity and singular mission, the partnership brought new academic and financial strength to the College. Since 1979, Bard has added to the texture and depth of the academic experience at Simon’s Rock, shaping many of the intellectual hallmarks of a Simon’s Rock education: Writing and Thinking Workshops, Moderation, the Senior Thesis, as well as the First-Year and Sophomore Seminars.

b-hall-rock.jpgThe leadership of Simon’s Rock’s and of Bard’s main campus have jointly created Bard High School Early College I and II, which opened in 2001 and 2008 respectively. Part of both Bard and the New York City public school system, these institutions offer two years of enriched high school that segues directly into the first two years of college and culminates with an AA, similar to Simon’s Rock’s original structure.

Peter Laipson was appointed as provost and vice president in 2011. He continues the strong leadership examples set by Elizabeth Blodgett Hall and her successors Baird Whitlock, Bernard F. Rodgers Jr., and Mary B. Marcy. Under the guidance of strong and committed leaders, the College has seen the transformation of the physical campus, growth in enrollment, an increase in the range and breadth of the curriculum and the faculty, greater diversity, improved access to financial aid, the creation of signature programs, and enhanced resources allowing students to thrive.