The Hamline Plan – Est. 1949

Some quick notes on The Hamline Plan Course of Instruction
… Established in 1949, not the 1980s

The Hamline University community is rife with incorrect oral history in need of correction. A prime example is the notion that the “Hamline Plan” was created in the 1980s.

The fact is, the “Hamline Plan” program of general education emerged as a result of the cultural changes of the post-WWII era. It went into effect in 1949.

In the years prior to implementing the new “Hamline Plan,” undergraduate students completed a more traditional, prescriptive two-year program of “Foundation Courses” (See the 1947 Catalogue, pp. 47-48). These courses included:

  • One English course, with a passing exam grade during the sophomore year.
  • “A Working knowledge of a foreign language” satisfied by a) four years of language in high school; b) two years of language in high school + one in college, or c) two years of language in college. Students could also demonstrate proficiency through examination.
  • Two courses in religion and/or philosophy.
  • Social science instruction by completing “Introduction to Modern Civilization” and “Introduction to anthropology.”
  • Instruction in laboratory science by completing coursework in physics, chemistry, or zoology.
  • Two courses in physical education, with one each in the first and second year.

At the end of the sophomore year, students then selected a “field of concentration” that included at least 18 semester hours in a single department (the “major”) and at least 12 hours “in courses allied to the major in subject matter” chosen in consultation with one’s advisor.

Following the War, the world needed citizens who were not just competent in vocational or technical education, but also the larger intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and social areas of life. This would allow graduates to grapple with the conditions of a rapidly changing, modernizing world. Hamline University believed a form of the liberal arts that combined a broad program of liberal education with a focused program of specialty education (what we now call a “major”) was the best way to ensure an educated citizenry ready for lives of leadership and service.

Unlike the typical collegiate educational plan favored prior to the mid-twentieth century (one that focused on a single educational program for all students in classical languages, moral and natural science, and mathematics), the new “Hamline Plan” demonstrated that higher education needed to be largely individualized. Thus it could better meet the needs of each individual student and allow them to achieve success by building on a student’s past achievements and special interests.

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The design of the student’s educational plan rested on a holistic, “individualized approach” that began with a series of exams measuring a student’s abilities, knowledge, and interests. A student’s scores were compared to entering freshmen at Hamline and to freshmen at other liberal arts colleges. Faculty with specialized training were assigned as advisors and met with each student to interpret the exam results and assist them in other ways, such as working on study skills, learning about careers and occupations, or choosing extracurricular or recreational activities to round out their academic program.

At the end of the sophomore year, students completed the “Cooperative General Culture Test” to assess their knowledge of public affairs, literature, natural science, social studies, fine arts, and mathematics. These scores were then used by the advisor to suggest additional general courses to address deficits or enrich learning.

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Thus, notes Hamline University, “General and specialized education therefore go on simultaneously throughout the four years at Hamline University. There is no sharp line of demarcation between them. Special interests receive special emphasis in the last two years, but they do so within the larger context of a general education” (Catalogue for 1948, p. 39).

When it was first instituted, the “Hamline Plan”  rested on seven key educational pillars:

A. Communication (listening, reading, thinking, speaking, writing)
1. One required course – “Critical Reading & Writing”

B. Humanities (language, literature, philosophy, religion, fine arts)
2. Required language proficiency
3. One required course – “The Philosophical & Religious Backgrounds of Contemporary Civilization”

C. Social Sciences (history, economics, political science, sociology, education)
4. One required course – “Introduction to Modern Civilization” OR “Introduction to Anthropolgy”

D. Natural Sciences (chemistry, biology, physica, astronomy, geology, mathematics, psychology)
5-6. Two required Courses – 8 hours of lab science

E. Health
7-8. Two required courses – PE courses in the freshman & sophomore years

F. Personal & Social Growth
9. X courses chosen by the student, including co-curricular activities

G. Vocational and Specialized Education (a “major”) – 36 hours minimum
Areas of specialization – or what we would call “majors” – for example:

  • Art – graphic & plastic
  • Business Administration
  • Secretarial or Business Services
  • Chemistry
  • Church Vocations
  • Pre-Dentristy
  • Pre-Engineering
  • Journalism
  • Pre-Law
  • Library Science
  • Mathematics, Physics, Electronics
  • Medical Technology & X-ray Technology
  • Pre-Medicine
  • Music
  • Professional Nursing
  • Physical Education, Recreation, & Health
  • Psychology & Personnel Work
  • Public Administration and Foreign Service
  • Sociology, Anthropology, & Social Work
  • Speech & Dramatics (Theatre)
  • Teaching in High Schools, Colleges, and Universities
    *it is important to note that at this time, Hamline University included a School of Nursing

In addition to the seven key learning objectives, the “Hamline Plan” also included the following three learning areas:

H. Education for Citizenship
– X courses chosen by the student in addition to Critical Reading & Writing, Phil & Religious/Civ.

I. Home Life
– X courses chosen by the student

and J. Church Citizenship
– X courses chosen by the student

So while the prescribed course of study was designed to include approximately 8-9 courses required of all students, additional Hamline Plan courses especially in the arts, humanities, and social sciences were chosen in consultation with an advisor as a result of student interest, and used to fill in electives for the liberal arts program of general education.

The Hamline Plan was, of course, modified after we lost the Nursing school – my guess is that’s when more specific required distribution courses in the Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences were instituted. – but you can see from the plan outlined here, that generally students were expected to fulfill 1-3 distribution requirements in each area of the Hamline Plan from the beginning.

Hamline Plan courses then – like now – were generally individual choice. In the model above, only about 50% of the Hamline Plan is prescribed, with the balance of courses chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor (there’s a whole “advising” component to this early Hamline Plan that looks very much like our faculty FYSEM advisors ….)

So that’s a super quick Hamline Plan history. The main thing to know is that this was not an invention of the 1980s. It’s older than that.

Read for yourself: The Hamline Plan: 1948-09-01