Hillsdale College is considering starting a classical education master’s program, but the idea is still in the brainstorming stages with no fixed plan, according to Hillsdale College Provost David Whalen and Associate Professor and Chairman of Education Dan Coupland.
“Hillsdale doesn’t do anything unless it is pretty confident that it is going to do it well and it’s going to be an excellent program,” Coupland said. “So that is what we are talking about working on now. We don’t have a timeline. We hope it will be part of Hillsdale’s future.”
The only concrete step that has been taken thus far was to see who, if anyone, would be interested in a classical education graduate program.
“That has been extremely positive,” Whalen said. “And by positive I mean there appears to be a sizeable and enthusiastic group of people who would love it if Hillsdale got into this and are interested in residential and distance kinds of opportunities to pursue graduate degrees while they work.”
But everything regarding a classical school master’s program at Hillsdale thus far has remained at the theoretical level.
“It would be unwise to talk of it as if it were a plan. It is not a plan; it is a conjecture,” Whalen said.
Such a master’s program would not be Hillsdale’s first involvement in classical education. The school offers a minor in that field.
“Hillsdale has been training teachers for schools for as long as it’s been open. And it has produced teachers that have gone into public, private schools. And we continue to do that,” Coupland said. “Around 2007 or so we realized that many of our students were coming from schools that shared the mission of Hillsdale College. We also realized that our undergraduates here were graduating and going to work in those schools as well.”
Over time, as Hillsdale started the Barney Charter School Initiative and began hosting the Classical School Job Fair on campus every year, the college began to establish its name in the growing classical education movement.
Within the classical education movement, though, there is a growing need for administration and leadership.
“One of the hardest things to find in the context of a classical K‑12 school is to find administrators and leaders in general,” Coupland said. “Headmasters, assistant headmasters, and also dean of students department heads, lower school heads, those kinds of things.”
Before Hillsdale had any sort of graduate-level program, people asked how Hillsdale was going to contribute to the growing classical education movement, said Coupland. The Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship has shown that Hillsdale can do graduate level education, and do it well, he added.
Now that there is evidence of interest from the marketing analysis, the college might be able to take another step towards launching the program.
For current students in Hillsdale’s classical education program, the prospect of a master’s program is exciting. Junior Zach Palmer, who is minoring in classical education, said he has a strong interest in this kind of program.
“I have heard the rumors and would be very excited if it’s actually a thing,” Palmer said.
As a part of Hillsdale’s classical education program, Palmer has been impressed with the classes and how Hillsdale has taken many of the ideas that the school is focused around and put them into a minor.
“The subject material is so vast and it’s probably the most self-improving of the degrees that you could get here. The problem is that it’s only a minor,” Palmer said, noting that the classical education minor allows students to “actually go into depth about how a human being actually learns something.”
Right now, there are only a handful of schools, such as University of Dallas, Eastern University, and Houston Baptist University, that have been developing graduate-level programs in classical education, according to Coupland. As a result, current students like Palmer feels limited in options for graduate school.
Whalen explained, however, that starting any graduate program takes a lot of work and time. The school would have to define what the program would look like, and then the college would have to go to the Higher Learning Commission to get permission and accreditation to offer the degree. The college would also have to find funding, scholarships, and more faculty.
For a program like classical education, there would certainly need to be good scholarships available for students.
“We haven’t even figured out what kinds of scholarships. All I know is that the students are going to need a lot of help,” Whalen said. “If people are coming here in the summer for course work, very often, they are young, they don’t have a lot of money. It might be very important that we help them, that there be some kind of stipend or tuition waiver, or things of that sort that we assist them in obtaining their master’s degree.”
And only after all these things are figured out would the college even be able to open a program.
“In a way we can be really specific about what we don’t know,” Whalen said. “We don’t know what kind of budget would be necessary yet, we don’t know exactly how many additional faculty, we don’t have a target number of students that you want to open for your initial cohort. We don’t know a timeline.”
Whalen said thinking about the program is the first step.
“In a sense you do all the thinking first and then when you’ve thought it all out you set it loose,” he said.