The College of Idaho Approach to College Curricula: Multiple Minors

This past week I read a story on Inside Higher Ed about The College of Idaho and its unique approach to college curricula called PEAK. PEAK is an acronym that stands for professional, ethical, articulate, and knowledgeable. According to the story, under PEAK:

  • Students must have a major (about 36 credits) and three minors (about 15 credits each).
  • The major and minors must be chosen from each of the following four curricular areas: humanities and fine arts; social sciences and history; natural sciences and mathematics; and professional studies and “enhancements.”
  • The possible combinations are numerous, but students cannot major and minor or select two minors in the same curricular area. For example, a student cannot have a biology major and a chemistry minor. Or a political science major and a history minor.
  • A number of programs qualify as two or more curricular areas, however, such as the environmental studies major and the criminal justice studies minor.

The college, according to the story has 26 majors and 57 possible minors. It does allow students to made some interesting choices. For instance, a pre-med student who loves music could fulfill major and minor requirements with courses left over for two more minors. The overlap, for instance, with biology could allow that student to consider a psychology minor as well as a minor in environmental studies. This broadens opportunities for the biology major beyond medical school should s/he decide that they do not want to go that route.

The challenge is not necessarily finding a major, but fulfilling requirements for three minors, especially for a student who is undecided about their academic direction.  I took a look at the list of PEAK Majors as well as the list of PEAK Minors. I was a Political Science major in college, which falls under Social Sciences and History. Presuming that I could get into the classes I wanted, I could complete that major or a major in History or Political Economy with minors in Interactive Journalism (Humanities and Fine Arts), Business (Professional Studies and Enhancements) and Health Education (Natural Sciences and Mathematics). I would definitely be more marketable as a journalist or with a public policy organization than I was out of college.

Having looked at the programs more closely I do see the merits of PEAK. I would certainly graduate less ignorant of science and math than I was after college, and would learn these subjects around a health-related theme, which would make them more interesting.  It would also save me the aggravation of looking for six credits to fulfill a general education requirement that I would rather avoid. I would also try to look for overlap, so courses could fulfill the major and a minor or more than one minor.

But I also see two challenges that you will not find a most colleges. The first is that you have to be more aware of what you want to study in order to make first and second-year schedules. You not only need to consider possible majors and the three minors very early in a college education. The college has to consider this, too. Just under a fifth of the freshmen who entered last year decided to leave.

The second challenge is that students may not want to be forced into minors outside their perceived areas of interest. Most  liberal arts schools have similar general education requirements: a year of math, social studies, humanities, natural and physical sciences, and possibly a foreign language. These represent only 30 to 40 credits towards a degree. These credits plus the major, leave room for students to minor in two subjects, with fewer restrictions than those imposed by The College of Idaho. If freedom to choose is important, then students might want to choose a more traditional liberal arts curriculum/

It will be three more years before The College of Idaho will know how PEAK impacted the four-year graduation rate. Among students in the class that entered the College of Idaho in 2009, half graduated within four years. If the four-year graduation rate goes past 60 percent, that will help to prove that the college is seriously on to something.