BENNINGTON — Bennington College welcomed 244 freshmen during school reopening on Tuesday; its biggest first-year class since the college was established in 1932.
The class number broke the college's previous record of 219 freshmen students, set in the fall of 2017.
The college said its first-year students also represent the school’s most diverse class in recent history. About 20 percent are Black, Indigenous and People of Color from around the country; 15 percent are international students; and 18 percent are the first in their family to attend college.
The liberal arts college attributes its location and handling of the coronavirus pandemic as factors in the record-setting enrollment this fall. The college is also welcoming 17 transfer students, bringing the total number of new students to 261.
Bennington College’s rural setting amid the need for social distancing were attractive to students who were looking for an alternative to big cities, said college spokeswoman Natalie Redmond.
“If you are a student who grew up thinking you want to go to college in the city, or Vermont feels too far away from you or too isolated, all of a sudden they seem like real strengths,” she said. “That probably did open up new markets of people who may not have considered a school in Vermont before.”
Though the college set up remote learning last year to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 disease, it also held in-person classes and small, outdoor events.
“You still had this simple college experience going on even in the midst of the pandemic,” Redmond said.
The college said its current number of new enrollees caps the rising number of first-year applications it has seen since the fall of 2017 — also a record-setting trend. It reportedly received 1,691 freshman applications this year, a 24 percent increase over the previous year.
As school reopens while the coronavirus’s delta variant is rising, the college is requiring everyone on campus to wear a mask, both indoors and in shared outdoor areas (unless a person is eating).
It has also made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students, faculty and staff, Redmond said. People will be required to present proof that they’ve been vaccinated; those who have medical or religious exemptions will need to quarantine.
These policies will be reviewed regularly, she said. Some classes this fall will still offer options for remote attendance.
The college said it hasn’t experienced any campus-wide outbreak to date, citing its quarantining and preventative testing procedures, as well as collaboration with public health, higher education and local community groups.
The college puts its undergraduate population at 777. Including non-degree and master’s of fine arts students, the total is 893.
The school said its Class of 2025 includes students from two dozen other countries, such as Armenia, the Congo, India, Libya and Russia. A quarter of the freshmen were described as recipients of the Pell Grant, a federal aid program given to students in financial need and which doesn’t have to be repaid.
Bennington College’s annual tuition for undergraduates, before any aid, is $58,848. The school said at least 92 percent of its students receive some form of financial aid.
The college said it remains committed to making higher education accessible and affordable, as well as fostering an inclusive environment for students from diverse backgrounds.