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Hillsdale course catalog

The core cur­riculum is one of the most dis­tinctive fea­tures of Hillsdale College. Com­prised of a whopping 55 credits, the core is double the size of a typical major. The amount and type of classes included are a source of debate on campus for stu­dents, but con­ver­sa­tions sur­rounding the core actually started about 15 years ago. 

Chairman of History Mark Kalthoff said the core as we know it today was first con­ceived in 2006, when a group of faculty, deans, and department chairs formed the President’s Core Cur­riculum Task Force at the direction of Pres­ident Larry Arnn. Together, they decided on improve­ments and revi­sions that were imple­mented starting in 2010 and con­cluded just this year. 

“The idea to revamp and expand the core emerged from numerous con­ver­sa­tions between Dr. Arnn, faculty, and staff in the early years of his pres­i­dency,” Kalthoff said.

According to Kalthoff, the idea for a revamped core came when Arnn looked closely at the core and asked this question: “What do we at Hillsdale College believe is so important that anyone who would leave here with a degree must have been intro­duced to and be somewhat con­versant in the subject matter?”

Estab­lishing a set of sub­jects that everyone needs to know is just one of many things that makes Hillsdale unique, Kalthoff said, because many col­leges and uni­ver­sities are unsure about this question. 

“They’re unwilling to say that there’s any­thing that everyone needs to know,” he said. “Almost every college admis­sions coun­selor says, ‘Don’t worry, we don’t have any require­ments. You can study whatever you want.’”

Kalthoff added that although the faculty voted to approve the new core, there was a lot of com­promise involved throughout the process. 

“The core cur­riculum does not look exactly like the cur­riculum any single faculty member would have drawn up if he or she were asked to draw it up,” he said. 

Senior Phil Bernston, a history major, said his class was the first to take physics as part of the core. 

“Should we even have these classes? All of us just got through high school science, which is the exact same thing that we do in college,” he said.

Although the core was imple­mented grad­ually over a 10-year period, Bernston’s class expe­ri­enced rapid changes such as the addition of new classes like Clas­sical Logic and Rhetoric. Current seniors were also the first class required to take both Western Philo­sophical Tra­dition and Western The­o­logical Tra­dition, instead of choosing one or the other. 

“They expanded the core by too much too fast, and it kind of blind­sided people, espe­cially my class who was coming in and didn’t know,” Bernston said. “People who want to do a double major are basi­cally forced to take summer session classes.”

One common com­plaint among stu­dents is that the size of the core pre­vents them from spe­cial­izing in more than one area. According to Kalthoff, however, the core is more important than any par­ticular major in the long run. 

“Not too long ago, in 2019, my phone rang and JP Morgan Chase was calling, saying that they were looking for people in the human­ities,” Kalthoff  said. “They said, ‘We can teach them the finance they might need to know, but we need people who can think, who can learn, who can com­mu­nicate and who have a good work ethic and we know that people with a liberal-arts back­ground can do it. We don’t care what they majored in.’” 

Stu­dents can feel stressed about not having enough time to major in dif­ferent areas because of cul­tural mes­sages that tell them the liberal arts aren’t a prac­tical option, according to Pro­fessor of History Thomas Conner. 

“I think these pres­sures come from the fact that so many insti­tu­tions of higher learning don’t have the same approach that we do,” Conner said. “I’ve heard some stu­dents in our own pro­grams say that come grad­u­ation, if they’re still uncertain as to what they want to do, they find them­selves envying the accounting majors who have jobs lined up months before com­mencement. There are a lot of cul­tural pres­sures that run counter to the whole approach we have here, and that’s some­thing you have to contend with.”

Although the size of the core might seem incon­ve­nient to some, Kalthoff empha­sized that it was designed to make sure stu­dents learn certain essential lessons that are key to a suc­cessful life. 

“What are the sources of per­sonal order and political order? What is the right rela­tionship between man and his maker?” Kalthoff said. “Those are big ques­tions. If you get the answers right, you’ve got a chance to flourish as a human being. If you get the answers wrong, chaos, dis­order, and misery result.”

Senior Reagan Cool, a phi­losophy and religion major, said core classes like chem­istry actually helped her to under­stand the rela­tionship between nature and God. 

“We will all encounter frus­tra­tions with the core or various details of our edu­cation here,” she said. “This edu­cation, more than any­thing or anyone else in my life so far, has taught me to admit that I am young, I am often wrong, and there is much I do not know.”