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Returning to a true Christian liberal arts education is goal of new Hildegard College

Hildegard’s focus — unlike other larger, Christian colleges — is not on extra amenities or pandering to the latest trends, president says

Arguing that “many Christian universities have become overpriced, ineffective, and increasingly secular,” the founder of a new Christian college said he hopes to offer a higher education experience grounded in a traditional and Godly liberal arts education.

“Most universities, including Christian ones, are secular. I don’t mean that they always teach a godless view of the world, though they often do, but that the journey that they create for students subconsciously assumes that the world is unordered, godless, and intellectually bankrupt,” Hildegard College’s founding President Matthew Smith said in an interview with The College Fix.

Hildegard College, located in Southern California and scheduled to open in the fall of 2023, hopes to offer something better, he said.

“Small fixes won’t work,” Smith told The College Fix via email. “We need new colleges that are devoted to the relentless pursuit of truth.”

Thomas Ward, an associate professor of philosophy at Baylor University and a visiting professor at Hildegard College, describes Hildegard’s one major as simply “a Great Books major with a minor in Economics and Entrepreneurship.”

For Hildegard College, “Great Texts” included the Hebrew Bible, Plato’s “Republic,” Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War,” Sophocles’s “Oedipus Rex,” Aristotle’s “Politics” and Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives.”

“Our Great Text program will be the most rigorous and in-depth in California,” Smith said. “Our mission is simple and powerful: to equip Christian students to think well and act with purpose.”

The school will consist of 200 students once it is up and running, its website states. Hildegard is not modeled after the traditional four-year university. It aims to equip young minds to go out into the world as quickly as possible, combining study abroad trips, transfer credits, and high school AP credits to send its students into the real world within three years.

Smith said Hildegard’s focus — unlike other larger, Christian colleges — is not on extra amenities or pandering to the latest trends.

“It’s no secret that the competition between schools for students has been the driving force in universities’ identities,” he told The Fix. “It’s been described as an arms race for the best amenities, the most majors, the fanciest campus, the most clubs.”

“What’s secular about these schools is that in chasing the recent cultural trend they’ve abandoned the higher ends of education—to transform the minds and hearts of young people in the knowledge of God and of his creation.”

Smith said he is not trying to bash fellow Christian colleges: “Christian universities are full of passionate and talented faculty.”

However, he added in his email to The Fix, most “are large, evangelical institutions that have lost their way. They’re unable to clearly and confidently answer the question: what kind of person will I become if I attend your university? And people see the need for something new.”

“At the primary and secondary school levels, there’s a growing dissatisfaction with public education. And at the college level, folks are tired of the status quo. What we hear more than anything else are calls for colleges to leave the distractions behind and return to what truly allows students to thrive: rigorous academics, with a clear mission, at an affordable price.”

Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Smith said he hopes Hildegard College offers a viable alternative to other, larger Christian universities in the region, such as Azusa Pacific and Biola universities.

“[T]hese schools neglect and even cannibalize the elements that matter most to a transformative experience of learning: spiritual growth, deep learning, and career preparation. The result is that many Christian universities have become overpriced, ineffective, and increasingly secular,” he wrote.

Hildegard College is currently accepting applications for the 2022 Summer Scholars, billed as “a taste of Hildegard College in the Yosemite area. Great books, Hildegard faculty, 24 students, fellowship, conversation, and nature.”

Jessica Hooten Wilson, a board member of Hildegard College, told the Martin Center for Academic Renewal that she is excited to be part of the new venture.

“When American Christian colleges are all reducing themselves to little more than secular colleges with [a] chapel, we need a robust option that highlights the church’s rich intellectual and imaginative tradition, which is why I signed my name to Hildegard College,” she said. “Named after a polymath who gave her life to the Lord, Hildegard College is a place where faculty and students will embody her legacy.

MORE: New college promises real-world STEM training, traditional liberal arts education in 3 years at low cost

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Corey Kendig is student at Grove City College studying political science and history. He is the school’s Young America’s Foundation president and an editor for the school’s law journal.