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Jan 21, 2014 05:28 PM EST

One Major, Three Minors Required At The College of Idaho

College of Idaho
(Photo : collegeofidaho.edu) College of Idaho students on a nearby ski slope. All student reports rate the PEAK program a success.

When I tell my friends I majored in psychology and minored in both creative writing and communications in college, they're at first surprised, then impressed, and then investigative, eventually pointing to my liberal arts education as the chief reason I was able to pull off a trifecta they wouldn't have believed attainable at their larger universities.

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Probably, they're right, for the basic idea of a liberal arts education is to allow students to choose the classes they want to take (or need to, in order to attain minor status) rather than forcing them into required "core" courses.

At the College of Idaho, a liberal arts college in (you guessed it) Idaho, a new curriculum called PEAK both expands upon and violates that basic premise. Rather than having such an open curriculum that it gives students the opportunity to single-major and double-minor, the college requires students to pursue one major and three minors, Inside Higher Ed reported.

To perhaps justify the somewhat restrictive nature of that aim (less room for electives), the college forbids students from majoring or minoring in the same curriculum twice, meaning one couldn't major in biology and minor in chemistry, or double minor in chemistry and biology, according to Inside Higher Ed.

"It's kind of a geek's dream curriculum," said Robert Dayley, a professor of political economy at the college and lead organizer of PEAK. "You're challenging the diverse parts of yourself through a guided exploration of your choosing, but the parameters of PEAK require you to do it across the liberal arts."

The program was created after an email from newly hired president Marvin Henberg prior to his first year in 2009. In it, Henberg challenged faculty to reorganize a curriculum lacking a clear mission.  

"I think of general education as the space where every faculty member claims every student as his or her own even when those students are not majoring in the particular faculty member's subject area," Marvin Henberg said. "So it's worth preserving a general education program that has the active support of today's faculty members (PEAK passed without dissent) precisely so that faculty claim and acknowledge joint responsibility for every student's welfare."

Based on student feedback in the Inside Higher Ed article, the program appears to be a success, and, for some students, the reason they attended the college.

Based on my own liberal arts experience, I like it. Since I didn't choose to pursue psychology after college, I've had to fall back on my creative writing and communication minors a few times throughout the process of job applications and interviews. If I had one more minor, it would have made my course selection less varied overall, but increased my versatility as a candidate in the job market. For me, it was worth the trade off, though I could imagine many of my classmate arguing against the PEAK program. At least it seems to be working in Idaho.

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