Our Story

Roots and Foundation: Prescott College History

Prescott College began in the 1960s, a time of optimism and growth when leaders of a small town in the stunningly beautiful pine and chaparral country of central Arizona were searching for a new cultural identity. Dr. Charles Franklin Parker, minister of Prescott’s First Congregational Church and Prescott College founder, announced the ambitious project of creating the Harvard of the West – Prescott College. With the group of visionary leaders, Parker drew on the Congregationalist tradition of founding over 50 leading colleges and universities in America, beginning with Harvard in 1636, and including such institutions as Middlebury, Dartmouth, Amherst, Smith, Yale, Oberlin, Grinnell, Whitman, Colorado, Pomona and Scripps.

Making a Difference in a Changing World . . .

Many of the College's core philosophical and educational principles emerged in 1963, in a conference of state and nationally known leaders from higher education funded by the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Post-Secondary Education, Business and Industry. These principles crystallized around a central goal: To produce the leaders increasingly crucial to successfully meeting the challenges of the changing world. Dr. Parker’s vision “for a pioneering, even radical experiment in higher education “ and “to graduate society’s leaders for the twenty-first century who would be needed to solve the world’s growing environmental and social problems” seems especially prescient today, as humanity comes to terms with global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects. Society looks to new models of education to better prepare students of all ages for their role as global citizens.


Together we create interdisciplinary, experiential, and diverse learning environments that inspire future leaders to create a healthy, just, and sustainable world.


Prescott College will be recognized as the leader in experiential and collaborative education, creating opportunities for students to effect positive change in education, the environment, and society.


Inclusive Community

We nurture healthy, diverse relationships with respect and support both inside and outside the college.

Experiential and Field-Based Learning

We believe that classrooms extend beyond four walls.

Culture of Creativity

We encourage a culture of creativity, collaborative critical thinking, and innovation by teaching courses that challenge established norms and paradigms.


Justice is central to our work. A critical justice lens is a key outcome of all programs, employing both equity and environmental literacy.

Individualized Education

We educate, inspire, and enact change with respect for the natural world and society. We support students in finding their unique learning pathways whether on-campus or online.

Regenerative Sustainability

We have a fundamental respect for the earth and all its interconnected inhabitants and commit to contribute to its healing.

New Educational Paradigms

Over a half-century of leadership in developing and refining such new educational models has kept Prescott College at the forefront of schools seeking to address the urgent issues that face human societies right now. The themes students and faculty have identified over time as central to this effort include environmental awareness, social justice and peace studies, sustainable communities and sustainable agriculture, outdoor leadership, teacher preparation that includes multicultural education, and artistic and critical response to the issues of our world. The methods they have developed – collaborative learning, experiential education, and student-designed programs – assure students' impact in their future roles.  The College's tradition of educating with ethics, vision, and sensitivity supports Prescott College students as they become the leaders the world needs now, and in the decades to come.

Critical Thinking

Prescott College, tucked into a corner of the central Arizona town whose name it bears, is an evolving experiment in rejecting hierarchical thinking for collaboration and teamwork as the cornerstone of learning. The College puts students at the center in everything it does and is. Optional grades. Narrative Evaluations. No barriers. Limited bureaucracy. No summa or magna or “best in show” ribbons. Just a peripatetic community of lively intellects and fearless explorers whose connecting threads are a passion for social justice and the environment – and a keen sense of adventure. In 1963, the Ford Foundation challenged the country’s most innovative educators to come together and design an “ideal college for the future that would prepare students for contributing in an ever changing, and ever faster moving, world.” Prescott College is the result. Since its opening in 1966, more than 9,000 students have enjoyed the College’s highly individual philosophy of higher education that mandates and incorporates experiential learning into every course. This is higher education without the competition, without striving for someone else’s definition of success, without dividing talent into that arbitrary alphabet of A through F. Unplugged from such conventional practices as the departmentalization of knowledge, confining learning to the classroom and textbooks rather than real experience, and thinking of college as preparation for life, rather than life itself. An organic process, moving almost seamlessly between teachers and students, focused on questions and problems that matter deeply to both. Prescott students learn critical thinking and research and how to apply them to real-life problems and their own passions by living them and testing them out in real time.

Diversity and Inclusion

Prescott College is a pluralistic community where respect for differences and dialogue are key aspects of true experiential education. At Prescott College diversity in race, ethnicity, class, age, ability, religious belief, sexual orientation, and gender are respected and celebrated as we actively seek understanding across lines of difference.

Student Scholar Activism

A significant component of Prescott College's realizing its commitment to Diversity & Inclusion emerges in the inspirational scholar activism of our students. Working with our local, state, national, and international communities, our learners create and implement projects, which epitomize academic applications of partnership and justice.  Whether it's organizing youth praxis conferences, offering empowerment programming for adolescent women, facilitating educational camps for LGBTQ teens, or hosting initiatives of intercultural solidarity (to name just a few), our students lead the way with their visionary, innovative work.

Social Justice in Arizona

While the state of Arizona has become a national example of discriminatory politics it continues to be an even stronger site of social justice organizing and activism. Prescott College finds itself in the midst of this environment with an opportunity to mobilize resources and take a public stand for social justice. 

Diversity & Inclusion Committee

The Diversity & Inclusion Committee works to promote, enhance and celebrate diversity at Prescott College. Appointed by and reporting to the President, the Diversity Committee is composed of representatives from across the College including administrators, faculty members, staff members, and students.

*The goals of the Committee are as follows:

  • Advise the President on all matters and issues of diversity.
  • Review the existing Diversity Committee goals and strategies, prioritize short-term goals annually, and recommend specific diversity goals for the College’s strategic planning processes.
  • Collect, assess, and disseminate data on campus climate, group interactions, attitudes towards diversity, and student learning, retention, and success.
  • Initiate policies/programs to enrich understanding of, respect for, and capabilities to support diversity at Prescott College.
  • Promote the enhancement of educational programs to reflect intercultural values and diversity learning goals, and to support the recruitment, retention, and success of diverse learners.
  • Initiate and support projects and programs aimed specifically at increasing the number of underrepresented minorities amongst our students, staff and faculty.
  • Report annually on the work of the Committee and the progress made toward the short-term and longer-term strategic goals.

*Courtesy of Ferris State University

Sustainability and Service

The framing of social and economic policy in order to preserve with minimal disturbance Earth's bounty, resources, inhabitants, and environments for the benefit of both present and future generations plays a significant role in defining the character of the Prescott College community. Sustainability also implies working together in a functioning community that has staying power for people and the world. Prescott College places high value on students as functioning and contributing members of the College community. The strong emphasis on ethics and sustainability that permeates Prescott College curricula and community life produces community members inclined to activism in environmental, political, and social issues. Many classes and groups actively examine local, state, national, and international events and viewpoints. The College unabashedly encourages students to think critically, get involved, make commitments, and try to change the world for the better. In almost any week of the year, there are events on campus that examine controversies and organize advocacy or service. Faculty- and student-led groups travel to the Arizona-Mexico border, to Africa or Latin America, to disaster relief projects, (students and faculty raised money to travel to New Orleans to help clean up and rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,) to environmental restoration efforts, and to regional and international conferences.