CentreCyclopediaOld Main


John C. Young, in his inaugural address in 1830 stated that "The proper object of a collegiate education is to increase the future happiness and usefulness of the pupils." Two other purposes were sometimes advanced, to increase students' mental power and to invest human beings with power. Young strongly disagreed with these last two aims, saying that they had "greatly retarded the improvement of mankind." To Young, to increase the "future happiness and usefulness" of students required both their moral as well as the mental improvement. This was to be accomplished, in order of importance, by (1) impressing upon youths the truth of religion, (2) protecting youth from the example and allurement of vice, (3) the evolution of a youth's facilities, (4) formation of proper habits, particularly the habits of industry and close thought, and lastly (5) communication of literary and scientific knowledge. Young believed that "Deficiency in information is more tolerable, than deficiency in religion, good habits, or mental powers. You may make the mind a lumber-room, where vast stores of knowledge are packed away; and yet the man be useless and miserable."

In 1828 the faculty of Yale College had written a report staunchly defending the classical curriculum. This influential report guided the curriculum in many American colleges, including Centre, throughout much of the nineteenth-century. The report argued for a prescribed set of courses that all students should meet: "The two great points to be gained in intellectual culture are the discipline and the furniture of the mind; expanding its powers, and storing it with knowledge. The former of these is, perhaps, the more important of the two." By endorsing a prescribed course of study, the Yale faculty denounced the concept of preparing its undergraduates for specific professional work. "Our object is not to teach that which is peculiar to any one of the professions; but to lay the foundation which is common to them all." For Young and Yale’s faculty, disciplining the mind was met by a curriculum heavy in the classical languages and mathematics.

From its opening until the 1880s, all students at Centre took the same courses in the same sequence. Electives, when available, did not replace any of the required courses, but were offered occasionally by a faculty member with special knowledge. In 1832 freshmen were required to take courses Latin and Greek language and literature, algebra, ancient geography, declamation, and Christian religion; sophomores in Latin and Greek language and literature, geometry, declamation, composition, and Christian religion; juniors in Latin and Greek language and literature, trigonometry, Christian religion, and political economy; and seniors in Latin and Greek language and religion, mental and moral philosophy, chemistry, natural philosophy, astronomy, geology, mineralogy, and Christian religion.

In 1869 the trustees recommended that the faculty "examine the present curriculum of study in the College Classes, and to endeavor, as far as practicable, to enlarge the course so as to meet the advanced requirements of the present day." (June 23, 1869) However, by the mid-1880s the curriculum had not changed much: courses in the classics and mathematics still comprised over 70% of the courses students took in their four years.

In 1883 Centre introduced a Scientific Course leading to a Bachelor of Science degree. The 1883-84 catalog stated that it was "designed for those who are not prepared to take the later [i.e. Classical Course] but yet desire to obtain a liberal and practical education." However, the catalog added that in the opinion of the faculty, the Classical Course "is best fitted to give the most symmetrical development to the mind, and the broadest culture; and it is the one which they (i.e. the faculty) would earnestly advice every young man seeking an education to choose." The Scientific Course remained heavy in Latin, but no longer required Greek. German language, literature, and history, along with English language and literature and U.S. history appeared in the curriculum for both the Classical and Scientific course requirements. Electives first appear as part of the Scientific Course in the 1889-90 catalog, being allowed, although not required, in the Junior and Senior years.

In 1901 four courses of studies were offered: Classical (BA), Latin-Scientific (BS), Chemical-Biological (BS), and Physical-Mathematical (BS). The 1901-02 catalog states that on entering Centre, each student will select one of the four courses. In each course, the courses were prescribed for the first two years, while in the Junior and Senior years some were prescribed and some elective. For the first time selecting a course(s) from a list of elective courses became a requirement. By 1908 the number of courses had been reduced to three: Classical, Modern Language, and Scientific. Latin and Greek were no longer required in the Scientific Course.

The 1915-16 catalog contains the first mention of majors. For the Bachelor of Arts degree, in addition to the 24-32 semester hours in the major, 15-16 semester hours were required in a minor subject, 6 semester hours in English, 8 semester hours in mathematics, 8 semester hours in Bible, 4 semester hours in physical education, 14-16 semester hours in each of three groups of electives - humanities (primarily languages), social sciences, and mathematics and science - and 24 semester hours in a foreign language, of which 8 had to be in Latin or Greek. The Bachelor of Science degree required 24 semester hours of science, divided between at least two sciences, while the remainder of hours needed to complete the degree requirements were chosen as free electives. Majors were offered in English, Greek, Latin, German and French, History and Social Science, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. For the first time it was possible to graduate from Centre without having taken a class in either Greek or Latin.

The Class of 1921 was the last for several years to have students earn the Bachelor of Science degree. By 1930 Centre required 120 credits. At the beginning of the junior year, a student selected a major subject, in which 24-40 credit hours were required. A minimum of 12 hours in a minor subject, related to the major subject, plus twelve hours in a modern foreign language were also required. For the freshman and sophomore years, two courses of study were offered: one emphasizing literature, languages, and the social sciences, and the other emphasizing the natural sciences. Freshman year required that all students take courses in English, a foreign language, a laboratory science, history, and either mathematics, Latin, or Greek; sophomore year required courses in Bible, English, and the foreign language of their freshman year. Sophomores were also required to take either a course in social science or a laboratory science.

In 1966 Centre adopted a new curriculum that included a revision of the academic departments and the annual and weekly calendars. The 1970 catalog states that "The primary purpose of the College is the broad intellectual development of its students, rather than preparation for specific vocations. The curriculum is best suited to students preparing for life pursuits requiring broad insights and powers of discrimination." It went on to echo John C. Young: "Centre undertakes to confront students with the importance of a considered faith as the fundamental basis of a fruitful life." The curriculum was designed to "allow the student to acquire a broad intellectual perspective in his freshman and sophomore years which he will continue developing as he goes on in his junior and senior years to concentrate on an area of special interest."

Freshman and sophomore courses were organized into four major divisions of the curriculum, each division consisting of two programs. Within each of the eight programs, several courses were offered that combined disciplines, traditionally taught separately, into interdisciplinary courses. Freshmen chose one program in each of the four divisions during the fall and spring terms; sophomores continued in two of the four programs elected the previous year. Juniors and seniors concentrated on courses in their major program, majors being chosen spring term of sophomore year.

Academic departments were organized into three divisions: Humanities, Social Sciences, and Science and Mathematics. Each division was headed by a chair. This division continues today. The annual calendar was changed from a traditional semester system into three terms, two longer fall and spring terms and a shorter winter term. The weekly calendar was amended so that no classes were scheduled on Wednesdays.

The 1983-85 catalog states that "Centre College believes that the most appropriate formal preparation to meet the challenges of the world today. To fulfill career goals, to lead a rich and rewarding personal life, and to serve society as a responsible citizen, is a broad-based, flexible education in the liberal arts and sciences. Building on that belief, the College has carefully designed an academic program that not only prepares students for graduate school, the professions, and positions of leadership in all areas of society, but one that also equips them with skills needed to pursue a lifetime of learning." Degree requirements included successful completion of 38 courses, including general education requirements. These included (1) proficiency in expository writing, foreign language, and mathematics, (2) four courses in the Division of Humanities, (3) four courses in the Division of Social Studies, (4) four courses in the Division of Science and Mathematics, (5) two courses in Religion and Philosophy, (6) two courses in either a foreign language or mathematics beyond the proficiency level, and (7) one Integrative Studies course.

The 1998-200 catalog, while maintaining the language of Centre’s curriculum philosophy, provides the following for general education: "Our notion of general education goes beyond exposure to disciplines and the accumulation of facts…. Ideally, students will have achieved sufficient skill levels in secondary school to meet Centre’s basic skill requirements." General education requirements, instead of specific courses, were designed to develop students’ capacities in six contexts: aesthetic, scientific and technological, social, cross-cultural, fundamental questions, and integrative.

Today the degree requirements include (1) 110 credit hours, (2) basic competency in expository writing, foreign language, and mathematics, (3) at least one additional course above the basic competency level in foreign language, mathematics, or computer science, (4) completion of specified general education requirements, and (5) completion of the major program. This General Education requirements include a First-Year Studies course taken by freshmen, two courses in the Humanities Division, two courses in the Social Science Division (one in history and one in anthropology, economics, political science, or sociology), two courses in the Science Division (one in biology or psychology and one in chemistry or physics), and two courses in fundamental questions (religion and philosophy)

Over its history, Centre’s curriculum has evolved from one of a prescribed sequence of courses to one that still has a general education requirement, but allows students a great of flexibility on how to fulfill those requirements.