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By Max Belz

On Monday May 1, the Providence Board of Trustees announced a restructuring of the academic program. Starting this fall, Providence will offer a Liberal Studies major with eight concentrations. Students will choose a minimum of two concentrations to fulfill graduation requirements under the new major.

The restructuring comes on the heels of Providence’s decision to remain independent. Current students will be transitioned into the new program while incoming students will match their varied interests with concentration offerings. Registrar Patty Tsai is working this summer to register students for classes under the altered, but overlapping requirements.

Humanities professor Ryan McIlhenny and Dean of Academics Russ Reeves played a significant role in laying out the structure and rationale for the program.

“Providence Christian College seeks to capitalize on the integral nature of higher learning. The danger of specialization, an obsession in the modern academy, is that it takes away from seeing the world in a holistic manner and consequently does not adequately prepare students for a variety of experiences they will face in their lifetime,” McIlhenny said. (Read Dr. McIlhenny’s article, “Why Liberal Arts?”) While degrees at Providence have changed, many of the classes and teachers are continuing as they did before: equipping students “to be firmly grounded in biblical truth, thoroughly educated in the liberal arts.”

“We believe this revision will provide students a balanced program with the breadth of the liberal arts and also the opportunity to go more in depth in the subjects they care most passionately about, while preserving our commitment to a strong biblical foundation in the curriculum,” Dr. Reeves commented.

The curriculum will also tackle the question of education’s bearing on career through two new classes, “Christian Calling” and “Stewardship and Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” The multi-disciplinary nature of the courses will prompt students to talk about history, business, and their own calling all in the same breath.

Other schools and studies have recently recognized a growing need for adaptable, but astute graduates in the workplace, an understanding that fits with Providence’s new direction. The New Yorker magazine recently noted Stanford University’s refreshing emphasis on “cross-disciplinary” study, especially as it related to entrepreneurial ventures. The article mentioned that students at Stanford aim to understand foundational subjects, then apply their knowledge to problem-solving and teamwork.

In another report, Portfolio.com analyzed recent data from Millenial Branding. One of the report’s conclusions is that “soft skills” like being an able communicator are more desirous than “hard skills” which can be learned on the job. Being a critical thinker, while also understanding application to job, church, and family is at the center of the new academic program.

“The goal of a liberal arts education is to produce critical creative citizens—young men and women who confidently engage the world in order to work toward a society in harmony with God’s good creational order,” McIlhenny said.

McIlhenny also likes to quote Gene C. Fant from his book The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide. “Liberal [arts] learning is a tool that may be employed to prepare us for the tasks that God has prepared for us.  It allows us to connect orthodoxy (right belief) with orthopraxy (right behavior).  It helps us to find our place in his world.  An emphasis on liberal learning is of critical importance in our era, as we seek to engage our culture with the great Christian intellectual tradition that continues to provide a fertile culture for thought and action.”

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