When I was younger and had plenty of free time, I often enjoyed reading through the huge volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica that sat on a bookcase near the living room at my parents’ house. These tomes seemed filled with the most interesting tidbits of information on just about everything I could imagine. I loved discovering within these pages the changes in the world over time, how the economy would ebb and flow, how new career opportunities would spring up linked to the advancements in technology.
These days it’s fun to watch corporate computer needs grow smaller and leave the domain of the awe-inspiring professional in white lab coat and dust proof office. Now the average undergraduate with a trusty laptop can qualify for jobs that were once reserved for a select few. The focus in the job market has changed, and so have the demands of the work force. This influences the type of courses offered to students these days, and it’s interesting to discover how this affects curriculum.
In the 1889-1890 Detroit College Bulletin, the focus was on two “Courses of Instruction” tracks: the “Classical Course” and the “Commercial Course”. The Classical Course offered an emphasis on Greek, Latin, and “…Mental and Moral Philosophy.” This was a basic liberal arts education that allowed the graduate a purely academic education that, according to the bulletin, “…fully develops all the faculties, forms a correct taste, teaches the student how to use all his powers to the best advantage, and prepares him to excel in any pursuit, whether professional or commercial.” (This sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?)
The Commercial Course track “… offers to those who cannot or will not avail themselves of a regular classical training, the means of acquiring a good English or Commercial education.” The courses are basically bookkeeping, “an ample course in Arithmetic,” Algebra, Grammar, Composition, Letter Writing, and Religion. Clearly, however, the push was towards a “classical” education in which the graduate could enter the working world knowing a lot about subjects he may after college only use to impress. But then, what did those in the corporate world of the day really need to know to run a business that Aristotle couldn’t impart?
Today the path through the years of higher education is a bit more challenging. According to the 2003-2005 UDM Bulletin, the student body in those years was made up of “60% female, 40% male, 33% minority, and 8% foreign students, representing 38 countries.” (The student body of Detroit College was strictly male.) The emphasis now is on employment after graduation. During the first years of this century, those UDM graduates who responded to a survey reported that 89% of them were working within six months of graduation. But the goal here is now as it has been from the beginning: to serve this community and to provide “…a strong liberal arts curriculum.” This goal has now been expanded to include an “…accessible, quality education, while meeting the career preparation needs of a diverse student population.”
The digital Bulletins and Catalogs archive offers the viewer an interesting perspective on the evolution of the University of Detroit Mercy from its humble beginnings as Detroit College to where it is today. I hope you’ll spend some time with this bit of history and enjoy reading pages that few have seen since these books were published.
Detroit College circa 1889 (page 2 of the 1889-1890 Course Catalog)
You are invited to spend some time flipping through the digital pages of the Bulletins and Catalogs archive as we continue to grow in meeting the needs of this ever evolving social world.