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History of the University

Photo - Horace Mann
Horace Mann, America’s father of public education.

The spirit, vision and leadership of Horace Mann, America’s father of public education, lives on more than 183 years after Bridgewater State University first opened its doors for the purpose of training teachers. His belief, not only in the importance of public education, but also in standardizing — or normalizing — the training of teachers, led to the establishment of normal schools. In 1840, Bridgewater became the third such school in the commonwealth and, along with its sister institutions, developed a comprehensive approach to teacher training that became a model emulated throughout the country and across the globe.

Bridgewater Normal School grew as the educational needs of society evolved. Not only were more and better qualified teachers essential to a prosperous and engaged citizenry, but the demand for a college-level liberal arts curriculum required that the Massachusetts General Court expand course offerings at the normal schools and establish public institutions of higher education.

Today, Bridgewater State University is the comprehensive university of Southeastern Massachusetts and the largest state university and tenth largest public or private university in the state. With an enrollment of approximately 10,000 students, Bridgewater State University provides a wide range of academic programs and innovative learning experiences inside and outside the classroom. The university grants approximately 2,500 degrees and certificates each year.

The university offers more than 100 academic programs through its six colleges: the College of Education and Health Sciences; the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the Louis M. Ricciardi College of Business; the Bartlett College of Science and Mathematics; the College of Graduate Studies; and the College of Continuing Studies.

A postcard of Bridgewater State Normal School buildings, as seen from the campus pond. The building in the center is Normal Hall, erected in 1869. To the left are the old Tillinghast Hall and the old Woodward Hall.
A postcard of Bridgewater State Normal School buildings, as seen from the campus pond. The building in the center is Normal Hall, erected in 1869. To the left are the old Tillinghast Hall and the old Woodward Hall.

Despite the transformation of the campus over the past two decades and growth in student population, Bridgewater State University remains committed to small class sizes and extraordinary teaching and mentoring by a world-class faculty. Bridgewater affords students of all ages and backgrounds access to a variety of excellent opportunities for learning and personal growth such as undergraduate research (ranked among the top programs nationally by the Council on Undergraduate Research), study abroad (more than 250 programs in more than 50 countries), service learning, paid internships, and participation in an array of social justice initiatives. Several BSU students have been recognized with prestigious Fulbright and Goldwater Scholarships, and our Honors Program has doubled in size to more than 1,000 students.

Bridgewater’s commitment to student success has earned national recognition. BSU ranks in top 7% of all universities in the U.S. for advancing the social mobility of its students, according to Wall Street Journal, and BSU was ranked ninth in the nation by The Education Trust for simultaneously closing achievement gaps while improving graduation and retention rates for all students. In granting BSU its ten-year accreditation in 2023, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) stated that BSU is “exemplary in its diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice efforts.”

The accomplishments do not end there. Bridgewater graduate students historically have had among the highest first-time CPA exam pass rates of any university in Massachusetts. The university has been recognized as an Apple College of Distinction for its application of technology to teaching and learning in the College of Education and Health Sciences. All the while, Bridgewater continues to be the leading producer of new preK-12 and STEM teachers in the state.

BSU has also launched innovative academic programs at the leading edge of technology and workforce needs. Its bachelor’s degree program in Photonics and Optical Engineering, BSU’s first engineering program, is training students to participate in the next big technological revolution — the application of particles of light that will transform computing, autonomous vehicles, and biological, chemical, and spatial sensors, among many other fields. BSU’s new cybersecurity program will combine outstanding classroom education with extraordinary hands-on learning opportunities in the state’s most sophisticated cyber range and one of the state’s four Security Operations Centers, which will deliver real-world threat detection and mitigation to governments, non-profits, and corporations.

Bridgewater State University’s proud tradition of providing opportunity to all students, without exception — to learn by doing, to serving the world and the region, to teaching and learning, to discovering and preparing for careers, and dedication to making dreams a reality — have created the thriving, dynamic institution we see today.