Founded in 1853 by a determined group of pioneer settlers, Central College has, since its inception, been committed to the ideals of liberal education. Central was originally a Baptist institution, and its founders immigrated to central Iowa to escape religious tyranny in the Netherlands.
Central College officially opened Oct. 8, 1854, with a class of 37. The campus consisted of one two-story building containing three rudimentary classrooms. This fledgling institution grew both in size and mission during its first 60 years, eventually moving to a parcel of land donated by Pella's founding father, Dominie Pieter Scholte. The college survived fires, three wars and economic depression during a period of history that saw the United States double in size.
In 1916, Central became affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. As its academic reputation grew, Central attracted many more students from outside the denomination.
International study programs were introduced in 1965, strengthening an institutional emphasis on cross-cultural study. Today, Central continues to encourage students to develop a global perspective and operates study abroad programs around the world. By the time they graduate, 55% of Central students have had a meaningful international experience.
Today, Central College welcomes approximately 1,150 students each year who hail from Iowa and 32 other states and countries around the world. Before they graduate, about half of all students participate in semester or full-year study programs at Central’s foreign centers or in off-campus urban settings.
Central is located in one of the Midwest’s most picturesque communities. Pella is a thriving community of more than 10,000. It is famous for its annual Tulip Time Festival, its Dutch letter pastries and its fully functional 1850s-style windmill. Pella is located just minutes from Red Rock Lake, Iowa’s largest lake, and is the corporate headquarters of several international companies, including Vermeer Corporation, Pella Corporation and PPI Inc. Niche.com named Pella one of the Best Places to Live in Iowa, one of the Safest Places to Live in Iowa and one of the Best Places for Millennials in Iowa in 2018.
Central’s four-year liberal curriculum offers dozens of academic programs in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities. In 2018, the college celebrated its first graduates from its new engineering program. The college also has several professional programs and more than a dozen pre-professional tracks including dentistry, health, pharmacy, law, medicine, nursing, athletic training and more. The Dutch compete in 20 varsity sports and have earned 11 Division III national titles—more than any other Division III college in Iowa. An extensive program of art, music, theatre and cultural events are offered every semester.
Although founded 160 years ago, the college’s facilities are modern and well-equipped. The college’s emphasis on sustainability has led to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council on the Vermeer Science Center (the first LEED-rated building in Iowa), Howard McKee Hall (the first gold-rated residential building in Iowa) and the Roe Center (which received the highest rating possible, platinum).