Becoming Calvin University

In May of 2018, Calvin College announced that it would become Calvin University by 2020. In becoming a university with global influence, Calvin will expand what it does well and experiment with new directions. It will have a university-wide core grounded in the liberal arts and consist of a strong college of arts and sciences and thriving schools associated with professional programs, all of which will be structured, governed, and resourced in ways that maximize potential to grow enrollment and sustain Calvin’s mission.

Academic programs

Changing from Calvin College to Calvin University reflects the identity of the institution today. It is important to be clear about Calvin’s program offerings; today, many people associate colleges with offering majors only in the arts and sciences. While Calvin has a long tradition of offering strong majors in these disciplines, today about 50 percent of its students graduate with professional degrees in engineering, nursing, and business, to name a few. As such, Calvin seeks to reflect this growth and commitment to both the liberal arts and professional education by becoming Calvin University. Having recently added a masters of accounting to complement its masters degree offerings in education and speech pathology and audiology, Calvin foresees the need to serve more post-undergraduate students in the future as well.

Global influence

The city of Grand Rapids, the United States, and the world have many needs that Calvin is uniquely equipped to meet. The hope is that diverse audiences will view Calvin University not merely as a center for scholarly engagement, deep learning, and practical expertise, but also as a trusted partner that seeks rich relationships with church communities, businesses, non-profit organizations, and communities, both locally and around the world.

In this holistic vision, Calvin has the opportunity to develop more options for learning beyond the Knollcrest campus. The Calvin Prison Initiative at the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan, is a current and exciting example of this.

Calvin seeks also to develop more and deeper global connections. Beyond the United States, “college” often refers to secondary education (high school). By establishing Calvin as a university, the institution will position itself competitively to those around the world seeking a comprehensive, Christ-centered education. And with a strong presence of international students at Calvin already, the institution is eager to continue attracting and equipping global scholars.

Historical roots

“Calvin” did not become a college until its 45th year. It began as a seminary with a preparatory academy, serving a Dutch Reformed immigrant community. In 1906, the literary department, which provided four years of preparatory and two years of college work, became known officially as the John Calvin Junior College, and a separate entity from Calvin Theological Seminary.

In time, the institution became a four-year college. And, in 1931, the school was renamed Calvin College, the name it is known by around the world today.

Becoming a university might seem a dramatic change, but it is consistent with Calvin’s history of institutional evolution. In 1970, in conversation with the college and seminary, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of North America recommended that Calvin develop graduate programs and potentially become a university. Marking 50 years from that conversation, Calvin College will become Calvin University by 2020. This shift will build on Calvin’s evolution from a school that served an immigrant population and church to a vision of Christian service to people from every nation.

Calvin’s Reformed Christian heritage and affiliation with the Christian Reformed Church will remain a vital element of its identity, even as the institution continues serving students from a variety of faith traditions. Calvin firmly believes that its theological approach to faith and learning is complementary, discerning, and God-honoring, and serves as an exciting option for students seeking to be equipped as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world. To this end, Calvin leaders are excited to make the institution’s Christian education available to a wider array of students from around the corner and across the globe.

At this time, the institution is also discerning how a Calvin education can continue serving and engaging alumni even after their degree is complete, and this element of Calvin’s vision is one that will continue to develop over the next decade.

Enduring mission

No matter the institution’s name, Calvin’s mission remains the same: to equip students to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world. This has been Calvin’s sustaining mission since its founding; looking ahead, the university organization enables Calvin to build off of this mission as it thinks expansively about the populations it seeks to reach and innovatively about the ways the institution organizes itself to serve those populations. As always, keeping students at the center is of utmost concern as Calvin uniquely prepares them for service to a broken world. No matter their major, each graduate of Calvin College or Calvin University will be equipped to use their gifts for the renewing of the world in the name of Christ.


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