Service of Every Little Bit Helps: Bard College Serious about Education for All

November 6th, 2017

Categories: Education, Innovation

I increasingly admire Bard College. We have enjoyed concerts at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, and outdoors in summer before that, for some 20+ years and most recently, during parent’s weekend. We attended a concert at which the students played. [We have most often heard the American Symphony Orchestra replaced by The Orchestra Now, but the student performances are always a treat.] Leon Botstein, conductor, music director and president, reminded the audience made up, I suspect,  of many music lovers like us who had no undergrads in the game, that while each of the students major in music, they all have a second major. So smart for a college known for its outstanding creative offerings. So practical. So necessary today.

The college is innovative in more than the arts. Its college program for prisoners made headlines in 2015 when the prison debating team beat Harvard’s. And now Bard has launched a “microcollege,” at the Prospect Heights public library. Leslie Brody wrote about it in The Wall Street Journal in “Bard Launches Free ‘Microcollege,’ in Brooklyn.” The free two year college is for “low-income applicants who haven’t sought degrees due to the price tag or personal hardships.”

The director of both programs–prison and library–is Max Kenner, VP for institutional initiatives at Bard. He calls access to college in this country “a catastrophic failure.” The “intellectual power of prison inmates,” that surprises many and frustrates Kenner, inspired the idea for the microcollege. Kenner mentioned never-ending jokes about his beloved prison initiative with “a punch line something about a captive audience.”

As in the prison program, Bard instructors will teach small seminars. Graduates will receive a liberal arts associate degree. The students will all be from Brooklyn, the program starts in January, 2018 and the goals: To grow to 64 students and that the graduates continue their studies to earn a four year degree elsewhere.

Do you also admire pioneering programs like this? Should it work, do you think it will become a template for other colleges to begin to chip away at one of the many closed doors to education?

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6 Responses to “Service of Every Little Bit Helps: Bard College Serious about Education for All”

  1. Lucan Said:

    I, too, am an admirer of Maestro, or, “President,” if you prefer, Botstein of the classical music scene and Bard College. He just keeps on confounding the conventional world with his creative ideas, and even more remarkably, seems to succeed more often than not, even though he often embarks on his adventurous approaches to various problems backwards. That is, he starts out on his ideas without funding and raises money to pay for them as he goes along, a little like an invading army which lives off the land as it advances. Scary, but it seems to work.

    I’ve even noted that major “think” pieces by Bard professors are beginning to show up prominently on the pages of the Wall Street Journal along side of those of their Yale and Harvard peers.

    I don’t know whether Botstein’s “college in jail” idea will work, but I like it and nobody else seems to have any answers to how we solve the problem of too many convicts. If I had any money, I’d back it.

    “Viva Leon.”

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Since we’re talking hypotheticals, I’d hope you would also back the library Brooklyn program if you had the money, so that it could soon help more than 16 promising students. I wager that Dr. Botstein finds funds for his ideas as they are good ones and he continues to transfix donors with energy and imagination–his and that of his staff. Let’s hope that he inspires the usual suspects–more traditional colleges and universities–to develop equally impactful programs. This country is in dire need of educated people.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Any effort to make education available to those seeking it is a plus. Brown University recognizes the negatives of crippling student debt and recently launched a program to benefit students of slender means. Doubtless many other schools are following suit.

    College programs in jails has excited controversy for years. It has also produced a number of graduates including PhDs who have gone on to become solid citizens, and often pillars of society, having come upon valuable lessons the hard way.

    Best of luck to Dr. Botstein. The grumbling over giving advanced education to brainy thugs will continue, much of it concerning taxpayer costs. The grousing taxpayer might want to consider the costs to society if potentially productive inmates are allowed to whither in jail only to cost society double and possibly triple upon release to society — and eventual return to jail. He’ll pay for that too, but with no return for his money.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Pretty sure that tax payers aren’t footing the bill for the Bard prison or public library associate degree programs. And I agree with you: Money is well spent when it opens doors and opportunities for people to make money the old fashioned way, as that old commercial used to say–“by earning it.” If my tax dollars went towards such initiatives I’d be far happier than paying for some of the nonsense pulled together without oversight or thought other than to grease the palm of some underserving entities.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    This post is filled with constructive and positive thinking, and I can only share your enthusiasm for Bard’s vision as an academic institution. Any offer of education to those whose access to it is limited or challenged can only serve to have a positive effect on the segments of the population who are able to share in it. For the incarcerated it is a matter of hopefully opening minds and vistas which will benefit them during their prison time and help readjustment to life afterwards. Any investment in education and sharing of access to learning reflects an investment in all of us.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    So well put–there’s nothing more to add except to once again praise Bard College, Leon Botstein and Max Kenner for their ideas, energy and implementation of inspired programs.

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