Are We a Liberal Arts College?

In Spring/Summer 2016, With the President by Erik Hoekstra

“Liberal Arts” is a term many of us use almost instinctively.  We’ve grown up with it, and we sometimes assume that everyone uses it the way we do.

I probably hear “liberal arts” seven or eight times a week—from prospective students, current parents, or alumni.

I don’t always interrupt and correct them, but at Dordt College we think of and try to describe ourselves differently.

While Dordt College has many similar attributes to most liberal arts colleges—a residential character, small class sizes, high student graduation and retention rates, personable and relational faculty and staff, teaching excellence, and a strong commitment to curricular breadth—Dordt College is not a liberal arts college.

And, we never have been.

Liberal arts colleges teach many courses similar to what we consider vital to a holistic education, but the aim of the classic liberal arts education is to make citizens “worthy of living freely” (from the Latin liberalis). We see ourselves as citizens of Christ’s already-and-not-yet kingdom, living Pro Rege (Latin for “for the King”). So the liberal arts definition doesn’t really fit us.

But, we’re not a professional, vocational, or technical college, either.

Dordt College began as a junior college, and we’re one of the few colleges that have retained two-year associate degrees as a vital part of our work.  In fact, soon we will be announcing an exciting expansion of those programs to help close what we see as a gap in Christian higher education.

Dordt was founded to prepare teachers and pastors from a Reformed, Christian world-and-life view. Today, our largest majors are education, business/accounting, engineering, agriculture, and nursing— all predominantly professional programs.

But we’ve never wavered in our commitment to an integral biblical vision for education that takes every thought captive to Christ. Our interconnected Core Program helps Dordt graduates become effective kingdom citizens—whatever their occupational area of service.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a stickler about the term liberal arts. But I believe we have something distinctive and transformational here that is not adequately described by “liberal arts college.”