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Our History

In 1844, “Father” John J. Shipherd, a Congregational minister, walked into what is now the Olivet College Square and began an institution that operates much like the one we have today. From its inception, the college’s leaders believed an education should be available to anyone regardless of gender, race or financial means. The basis of Olivet’s guiding principle was established by the founders when they wrote, “We wish simply to do good to our students, by placing in their hands the means of intellectual, moral and spiritual improvement, and to teach them the divine art and science of doing good to others.”

The college was prevented from receiving a state charter in 1845 due to its abolitionist beliefs. Regardless, the college persevered. In 1859, a state charter was granted to Olivet College, and in 1863 the college honored its first graduating class: Mary N. Barber, Sara Benedict and Sophia A. Keyes.

Throughout the 20th century, Olivet faculty and staff were challenged to develop new and innovative ways to advance and develop young people. At the same time, the college community was working to meet the practical needs of students with a growing focus on careers and the job market.

In 1993, the Olivet College community established a new academic vision for the college. Titled Education for Individual and Social Responsibility, the vision echoes the words of Olivet’s founding fathers as it states, “Olivet College is dedicated today, as it was in 1844, to the principle that the future of humanity rests in the hands, hearts and minds of those who will accept responsibility for themselves and others in an increasingly diverse society.” This vision shaped the redesigning of curricula and challenged traditional assumptions about the purposes and assessment strategies for a college education.  The new education system, known as The Olivet Plan, focuses on student learning rather than simply delivering courses, credits and grades.

Throughout its 170-year history, the college community has remained dedicated to the primary objectives Olivet’s founding fathers set out to achieve. Offering multiple areas of study, Olivet continues to meet and exceed the needs of more than 1,150 students who attend the college. Under the leadership of current President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., the college is working toward its new vision, “Charting the Course for Olivet College 2020 and Beyond.” The multi-year plan involves input from all of the college’s constituents, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, administrators and trustees, to identify and implement key objectives in charting the course for the future of Olivet.

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