Allison Young- Staff Writer
Dordt started as a two-year college to train Christian teachers in 1955. Beginning in the fall of 2017, Dordt will once again offer a comprehensive program of associate’s degrees, but this time for professional and technical degrees in manufacturing and agriculture. Pending final approval by Dordt’s accreditors, Dordt will begin accepting applications to the Pro-Tech program on Nov. 1, 2016. Students will arrive in the fall of 2017.
“We’re trying to fill this hole in Christian education,” said Dr. Joel Sikkema, Director of Professional-Technical Education. “The way college in the U.S. is set up right now, we say, ‘Ok, this place is for four-year people; this place is for two-year people.’ And that doesn’t make sense. If we go back to our values, all of these different callings are noble in God’s eyes. If we’re saying that, then our Christian colleges had better reflect that, too.”
Dordt anticipates hiring four new professors to meet the needs of the program: two for the Manufacturing Technology component and two for the Agriculture: Farm Operations and Management component. Sikkema will collaborate closely with Gary DeVries, Agriculture Department Chair; Ben Saarloos and Ethan Brue, engineering professors; and Jade Van Holland, the Pro-Tech Enrollment Coordinator.
No other college in existence offers a two-year technical degree that incorporates Christ-centered learning, affordability, residential community, soft skills, hands-on learning and continuous paid internships.
“It’s such a unique thing for a Christian, four-year college to be doing more technical education,” Sikkema said.
In this program, it is Dordt’s mission to equip students with not only the skills and expertise they need to excel in a particular trade, but also with a Christian Reformed foundation. Over the course of five semesters, including a summer, students will complete five internships, all classes that pertain to their major, and nine core classes. Of those nine, Core 100 and Core 150 will be the only core classes synonymous with the four-year students. All of the major-specific classes will be separate from those in the four-year program.
“What we’re looking to do is get some of those courses that [a four-year student] would do during [his or her] junior and senior year and get some of that content down into the first two years,” Sikkema said.
Unlike an associate degree from a community college or trade school, Dordt will invite its Pro-Tech students to fully immerse themselves in the campus community. Pro-Tech students will live on campus and will be eligible to participate in sports, music and all co-curricular activities.
“We want to make sure they are an integral part of the campus culture,” Sikkema said. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re separated.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between Pro-Tech students and other two- and four-year students will be the internship component. Dordt has partnered with a number of local companies in manufacturing and agriculture to provide paid internships to students during every semester. Dordt Pro-Tech faculty estimate that students will earn $15,330 total from their internships, which they will participate in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The summer internship will be full-time.
The idea behind the paid internship is to help offset the cost of tuition, which will also be lower than the normal rate. According to Gary DeVries, a donor will pay a portion of every Pro-Tech student’s tuition, leaving the sticker price at $29,523 for the entire program.
“We say things like ‘every square inch’ but…Christian colleges really need to be thinking of these areas,” Sikkema said. “If we’re not, people can perceive that as if we’re saying that callings which come from serving in these areas are less noble in God’s eyes, and that’s totally opposite of what our philosophy and theology would tell us.”
Dordt may be the beginning of a trend among Christian colleges, but only time will tell.