For the sixth consecutive year, Hillsdale College has secured a place on Kiplinger’s list of top 100 “Best Values” in private liberal-arts colleges, ranking 28th nation-wide, and 1st in the state of Michigan. Kiplinger rates liberal arts colleges based on five criteria: competitiveness, graduation rates, academic support, cost and financial aid, and average student debt at graduation.
Hillsdale College is a private conservative liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan. Founded in 1844 by abolitionists known as Free Will Baptists, it has a liberal arts curriculum that is based on the Western heritage as a product of both the Greco-Roman culture and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hillsdale requires every student, regardless of concentration of studies, to complete a core curriculum that includes courses on the Great Books, the U.S. Constitution, biology, chemistry, and physics.
Since the late 20th century, in order to opt out of federal affirmative action policies, Hillsdale has been among a small number of U.S. colleges to decline governmental financial support, instead depending entirely on private funding to supplement students’ tuition.
In August 1844, members of the local community of Free Will Baptists resolved to organize their denomination’s first collegiate institution.: 4 After gathering donations, they established Michigan Central College in Spring Arbor, Michigan, on December 4, 1844.: 6 That site is now home to Spring Arbor University. Although religiously affiliated, the college was officially nonsectarian.
Under its first president, Daniel McBride Graham, who held the office from 1844 to 1848, Michigan Central College opened within a two-room store and admitted five students. In March 1845, the government of Michigan incorporated the college, and the college enrolled 25 undergraduates by the end of its first year.: 12 : 11
Edmund Burke Fairfield assumed the presidency of Michigan Central College in 1848. On March 20, 1850, the Michigan legislature granted the college a special charter, giving it the right to confer degrees.: 12–14 : 116 Black students were admitted immediately after the college’s founding, and the college became the second school in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women.: 12–14
Outgrowing its space, in 1853 the school moved to Hillsdale, Michigan, in part to have access to the railroad that served the city. It received considerable financial support from local citizens, who wanted to develop the 20-year-old town.: 30 The cornerstone of the new building, Central Hall, was laid on July 4, 1853.: 24 After Michigan Central College completed construction and moved, it reopened as Hillsdale College on November 7, 1855.
Fairfield led Hillsdale from 1848 to 1869. During his presidency, he helped found the Republican Party with Ransom Dunn in neighboring Jackson, Michigan. A prominent leader, Fairfield attended the first Republican Party convention in 1858, and was elected lieutenant governor of Michigan. Hillsdale’s early anti-slavery reputation and pivotal role in founding the Republican Party led to the invitation of several notable speakers on the campus, including Frederick Douglass (who visited the school on two separate occasions) and Edward Everett, the orator preceding Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.: xxv, 49 On August 8, 1860, Hillsdale conferred its first degrees. On March 20, 1863, the Michigan legislature formally legalized Hillsdale’s change of name and location.: 33
Hillsdale no longer has any denominational affiliation but, according to its website, “the moral tenets of Christianity as commonly understood in the Christian tradition have been essential to the mission of the College”. Founded by abolitionists, it has always been open to black and female students.
In 1861, many Hillsdale students joined the ranks of the Union Army during the American Civil War; a higher percentage of Hillsdale students enlisted than from any other Michigan college.: 60 : 1 Hillsdale continued to operate during the war, but had limited enrollment because so many young men went to war. Half of Hillsdale’s students who enlisted became officers, as was typical for men with some college education; five became lieutenant colonels, four received the Medal of Honor, and three became generals. Sixty students died in the war.: 5 Present-day Central Hall, rebuilt after the fire in 1874
Hillsdale survived while nearly 80% of the colleges founded before the Civil War were forced to close. After the war, it regained its normal enrollment; many veterans returned and completed their education. Hillsdale continued to host notable speakers, including the physician and educator Sophia Jex-Blake in October 1865.: 65 Hillsdale’s Delta Tau Delta chapter, its first fraternity, was chartered on October 19, 1867.: 458
In 1869, James Calder succeeded Fairfield as president. Calder served through 1871. During his administration, the commercial school opened, a theological department was established, and the college enrolled around 750 students.: 73, 292, 411 He resigned to become president of Pennsylvania State University.
Hillsdale’s first president, Daniel McBride Graham, returned for a brief second term in 1871, notably rebuilding the campus after the catastrophic “Great Fire” of March 6, 1874.: 139–66 : 77 DeWitt Clinton Durgin, a Union College alumnus, was president from 1874 to 1884. In 1878, the Hillsdale Herald was published, becoming the second oldest college newspaper in Michigan, behind Kalamazoo College’s The Index. This paper later merged with another college paper to become The Collegian.: page needed During Durgin’s presidency, Hillsdale’s Kappa Kappa Gamma and Sigma Chi chapters were chartered.: 462, 464
After Ransom Dunn’s brief turn as acting president, George F. Mosher served as president of Hillsdale from 1886 to 1901.: 116, 125 During this time, the college grew in size and prestige. In 1884, Spencer O. Fisher became the first Hillsdale alumnus elected to Congress.: 119 Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Tau Omega were chartered.: 465, 467 In 1891, the Chicago Herald reported, “Hillsdale has a college second in standing to no denominational college in the country.” Four years later, when the University of Chicago offered to affiliate with Hillsdale, the college rejected the proposal.: page needed
In 1900, Hillsdale ceased grazing livestock and removed the agrarian fence circling the campus.: xxiii : 135 It began an era of institutional growth and professionalization. In 1902, Joseph William Mauck became the college’s sixth president, the first Hillsdale graduate to return as president of his alma mater. Beloved by the college community and an early and outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage, Mauck served for two decades. One of the women’s dormitories is named after Mauck.
Hillsdale adopted its first honor code and held its first homecoming celebration. In 1907, the college amended its Articles of Association, no longer requiring the president and trustees to be Free Will Baptists. This led to a decline in the theological department’s prestige but an increase in the number of Christian denominations represented on campus.: 166 : xxiii In 1915, the college’s chapter of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity was chartered. When World War I broke out, a large proportion of (mostly male) students entered military service. By 1918 most of the upperclassmen had enlisted.
Four years after the war, William Gear Spencer succeeded Mauck as president. He served from 1922 to 1932, when he departed to lead Franklin College. Under Spencer’s leadership, the college prospered. During this time, Hillsdale acquired its 14-acre Slayton Arboretum, built new dormitories, constructed a new field house for its developing athletic programs, and, in 1924, chartered its chapter of Chi Omega.: 60–69
During the Great Depression, Willfred Otto Mauck, Joseph Mauck’s son and also an alumnus, was selected as the eighth president, serving from 1933 to 1942. Throughout this era, the college struggled financially, was forced to cancel its new construction projects, and cut the pay of its faculty and staff by nearly 20%.: 72–83 : 210 Succeeding Mauck, Harvey L. Turner became Hillsdale’s ninth president, serving from 1942 to 1952. Despite its financial difficulties, the college built a new library, had an undefeated and untied football team in 1938, and celebrated its centennial in 1944, when more than 1,000 alumni returned to campus for the commencement ceremony.: 113 : 267
J. Donald Phillips next assumed the presidency, holding the position from 1952 to 1971. During his administration, Philips solved many of Hillsdale’s financial worries and constructed many new campus buildings. In these years, Hillsdale began to resist federal regulations, particularly concerning affirmative action, which followed national civil rights legislation.: 167, 212  In 1962, the college’s trustees adopted its own “Declaration of Independence”. It affirmed Hillsdale’s stance against governmental control.: 191 The college promoted the traditional education of the liberal arts and classics. In the late 20th century, it decided to forego any federal grants or subsidies, “to reaffirm its historic independence and to resist subsidization of its affairs by the federal government.”
George Roche III became the 11th president of Hillsdale College in 1971. During the Roche years, Hillsdale became nationally known, in part because of its withdrawal from federal and state-assisted loan programs and grants. The U.S. Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare required the college to account for students by race as part of its affirmative action student loan program in the 1970s, but the administration publicly refused. Hillsdale’s trustees said it would follow its own non-discrimination policy and that it would, “with the help of God, resist, by all legal means, any encroachments on its independence.”: 237–39 In 1984, after a decade of litigation, the college withdrew from all federal student loans, replacing government assistance with private contributions.
Roche was highly successful in fundraising until he resigned due to allegations of a personal sexual scandal. During his presidency, the college dramatically increased its endowment, established the Center for Constructive Alternatives, and hosted prominent national speakers, including Ronald Reagan. It also began publishing Imprimis, a monthly speech digest.: 222–23 Russell Kirk taught at Hillsdale one semester a year throughout this time, beginning in 1973.
Roche resigned in late 1999, following his daughter-in-law Lissa Jackson Roche’s suicide and her allegations of personal scandal. On October 17, 1999, she said that she had engaged in a 19-year on-and-off sexual affair with him. She fatally shot herself at the Slayton Arboretum on campus with a .38-caliber handgun from her husband’s gun cabinet. Married to Roche’s son, known as Roche IV, Jackson Roche was employed by Hillsdale as the Managing Editor of Imprimis and Hillsdale College Press. President Roche denied the affair. The college’s reputation suffered and donations declined markedly.
Larry P. Arnn has served as president of the college since 2000. Under his tenure, the college completed various new buildings, including the John A. Halter Shooting Sports Center and Margot V. Biermann Athletic Center. The college also opened the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, an off-campus educational center in Washington, D.C.
In 2013, Arnn was criticized for remarks about ethnic minorities he made while testifying before the Michigan legislature against the Common Core curriculum standards. Expressing concern about government interference with educational institutions, he noted having received a letter from the state Department of Education early in his presidency that said his college “violated the standards for diversity.” He added, “because we didn’t have enough dark ones, I guess, is what they meant.” After being criticized for calling minorities “dark ones,” Arnn explained that he was referring to “dark faces”. He stated: “The State of Michigan sent a group of people down to my campus, with clipboards … to look at the colors of people’s faces and write down what they saw. We don’t keep records of that information. What were they looking for besides dark ones?”
Michigan House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel condemned Arnn’s comments, calling them “offensive”, “inflammatory and bigoted”, and asked for an apology. In response, the college issued a statement apologizing for Arnn’s remark, while reiterating his concern about “state-endorsed racism”, as Arnn called affirmative action.
Hillsdale enrolls approximately 350 new students each year, with a current enrollment of around 1,450 students from 47 states, the District of Columbia, and eight foreign countries. The college employs 124 full-time faculty members. Hillsdale was ranked joint 76th-80th in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report listing of best National Liberal Arts Colleges. The Princeton Review‘s The Best 384 Colleges 2019 ranked Hillsdale as third for “most conservative students” and ninth for “professors get high marks”. Hillsdale was ranked 203rd overall, including 35th in the Midwest and 141st in private colleges, in the 2018 Forbes report of America’s Top Colleges.
Undergraduate offerings include a variety of liberal arts majors, pre-professional programs, a teacher education program, and a journalism certificate program.
Hillsdale’s 200-acre (81 ha) campus contains multiple instructional and office buildings, 13 residence halls, seven fraternity and sorority houses, an athletic complex, music hall, arts center, conference center, hotel, and preschool. Hillsdale College also operates Hillsdale Academy, a private K–12 liberal arts school.The Richardson Heritage Room, housed in Mossey Library
Hillsdale College was chosen to receive the personal library of Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises, following the wishes contained in von Mises’s will; the collection of works is housed in the Ludwig von Mises room of the college’s Mossey Library. Mossey Library also contains collections of the works of Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, and is home to the college’s Richardson Heritage room. Built in 1994, the Heritage room holds many first-edition books and rare volumes, as well as sculptures, paintings, and historical artifacts.
The college’s Slayton Arboretum was officially created in 1922 when George A. Slayton and his wife donated 14 acres (5.7 ha) to the college. The arboretum was envisioned as an outdoor laboratory and field station for students and a biological garden for the community. Initial planting was with donated plants and the labor of Hillsdale students and volunteers. In 1939, Slayton Arboretum was listed as one of Michigan’s Points of Interest, and up to 700 people a day visited the site.
The campus features the Liberty Walk, a walkway lined with bronze depictions of famous statesmen. These include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s statue was dedicated on October 7, 2011, the centennial year of his birth. Reagan spoke at the college in 1977, stating, “Hillsdale deserves the appreciation of all who labor for freedom.” On May 12, 2017, the college dedicated the Douglass statue, positioned directly opposite Lincoln’s. Douglass was a guest at the college in 1863 (during the Civil War), where he gave an address titled “Popular Error and Unpopular Truth.” Madison’s statue was dedicated on September 22, 2020.
Hillsdale’s charter prohibits any discrimination based on race, religion, or sex, and the college has been credited as the first American college to prohibit this type of discrimination in a charter. Notably, Hillsdale’s football team refused to play in the 1956 Tangerine Bowl in Florida when the governing committee of the bowl would not allow the team’s black players to join the white players on the field; the committee then selected Juniata College instead.
In the early 1980s, a controversy threatened federal student loans to 200 Hillsdale students. Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money. The federal government required colleges where students received federal funding to submit “Assurance of Compliance” forms mandated under Title IX, but Hillsdale refused, arguing that the government could not deny federal funds to its students where the college received no federal funds directly and there was no allegation of actual sex discrimination. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) sought to terminate federal financial assistance to Hillsdale’s students; an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied HEW’s request in 1978, and both HEW and Hillsdale appealed to HEW’s Civil Rights Reviewing Authority. In October 1979, the Reviewing Authority rejected Hillsdale’s arguments and the ALJ’s decision, ruling that HEW could require Hillsdale to sign the Assurance of Compliance as a condition of its students receiving federal financial assistance. The college appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; in 1982, the Sixth Circuit ruled that government aid to individual students could be terminated without a finding that a college actually discriminated, but nevertheless upheld Hillsdale’s refusal to sign the compliance forms because only its student loan and grant program is subject to Title IX regulation, not the entire college.
In the related 1984 case Grove City College v. Bell, the Supreme Court required every college or university to fulfill federal requirements—past and future requirements—if its students received federal aid. As a result of the decision, Hillsdale withdrew from all federal assistance beginning with the 1984–85 academic year; Grove City College, the defendant in that case, followed Hillsdale’s lead four years later. Beginning in the 2007–08 academic year, Hillsdale stopped accepting Michigan state assistance, instead matching with its own aid any funds that a student would have received from the state. Since 2007, Hillsdale’s entire operating budget, including scholarships, has come from private funding and endowments.
Center for Constructive Alternatives
Further information: Imprimis
Hillsdale brings speakers to campus through its Center for Constructive Alternatives program. Lectures are open to the public. Speakers have included Stephen Ambrose, Benazir Bhutto, Harry Browne, Russell Kirk, Harvey Mansfield, Charles Murray, Ralph Nader, P.J. O’Rourke, Phyllis Schlafly, and Juan Williams. Lectures and speeches from the series are published monthly in Imprimis, and distributed monthly for free. First published in 1972, Imprimis has a circulation of over five million subscribers.
Barney Charter School Initiative
The college’s Barney Charter School Initiative was established to support the launch of K–12 charter schools based on a classical liberal arts model, with a strong civics component to “equip students to understand and defend the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”
Hillsdale-Oxford Scholars Program
Through an affiliation with Oxford’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Oxford Study Abroad Program, Hillsdale College offers a study abroad program at Oxford University where participants participate in classes and extracurricular as associate members of one of 38 different colleges in the university.
Allan P. Kirby Center
Hillsdale operates the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C. The Kirby Center also provides assistance to Hillsdale students that are participating in Washington internships and co-sponsors the James Madison Fellows Program with The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. It engages with senior-level congressional staff members who the college describes as “dedicated to making first principles the foremost consideration in public policy formation”. A monthly lecture series hosted by the center is the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series, which was started in 2008. The series has included lectures by David Horowitz, Brian Kennedy, John Bolton, and Hillsdale professor Paul A. Rahe. The Kirby Center also hosts an annual Constitution Day celebration and conducts online, interactive town halls on matters related to the Constitution.
The Blake Center for Faith and Freedom
In 2019, S. Prestley Blake donated his estate in Somers, Connecticut to the college. Following a lengthy battle over zoning issues, the college has turned the estate into The Blake Center for Faith and Freedom. The center includes a replica of Thomas Jefferson‘s Monticello. The college plans on hosting events similar to those held at other campuses in the future. The first event was held on May 20, 2021, with the donation of 200 books for the Jefferson Library.