A unique program at Hillsdale College is nurturing a new generation of public servants, based on America’s founding principles


“The Father of the Constitution” and fourth President of the United States, James Madison, once said, “Only a well-educated people can always be a free people.”

And a well-educated people is exactly what Dr. Matthew Spalding envisioned when he took over as Dean of the Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government. Here, students seek serious study based at the very seat of policy-making in the United States: Washington, D.C.

What attracts these motivated professionals to evening and weekend classes? Student after student is the scholarly and intellectual reputation of the flagship institution, Hillsdale College. The DC campus opened in 2010 near Union Station on Capitol Hill as the Allen P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship. Since then, thousands of people have embraced various programs that instill a deeper understanding of America’s constitutional roots.

According to Dr. Spalding, this new graduate school, located in the heart of the nation’s capital, teaches with the “avowed purpose of essentially offering a much older and deeper understanding of politics and thought in America.”

It proposes to engage professionals in the authentic and intellectual pursuit of America’s founding principles. In fact, the highly original source documents that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison read unite students with the basics of the Constitution and its principles. It’s the kind of graduate school devoted to civic and religious freedom that America was founded on.

“We wanted to do something different, something consistent with Hillsdale College’s teaching mission,” Dr. Spalding explained. “We really try to give a full and proper understanding of politics with a moral and intellectual foundation. The whole creation of a campus in Washington, DC, is really an outside activity of Hillsdale College – to shape, restore and revive the country’s principles that can reshape the way we think about educating its citizens.

Political thought, literature from Aristotle to Shakespeare, American history, and politics courses are integrated into a core curriculum that accounts for 36 credit hours. Although challenging, credits are earned through courses offered on weekday evenings or on learning weekends. It is ideal for professionals who work as government employees, analysts, legislators, media professionals, lawyers and policy experts.

He thinks many great people live and work on Capitol Hill and won’t go anywhere else to get a graduate degree. Because the program is designed for nights and weekends, students can study and graduate in 2-3 years at their own pace. Unlike other institutions, the courses are designed to learn how to be excellent statesmen, to become great thinkers like Churchill and George Washington.

“I love politics, but the essence of politics is understanding deep principles. The way you do that in the American diet is to study Lincoln, Washington and other great statesmen – and the Constitution Hillsdale already has that understanding, so to build that central idea in the heart of the nation’s capital is to create a unique program for working professionals,” he said.

Dr. Spalding’s professional insight consists of scholarly work and study grounded in the Constitution and American history. And his wife is a graduate of Hillsdale College. It was Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, who convinced him to participate in the grand vision of building the Washington, DC campus and, subsequently, establishing the graduate school. His extensive leadership role as Vice President of Washington Operations also requires him to oversee all operations and educational programs.

“At this point in my career, I wanted to go straight to the point and create this unique program that is this doctoral school,” he added.

In May 2022, the first working scholars earned their Masters in Government after completing many intense semesters of intellectual exceptionalism based on the principles of freedom, freedom, classical politics, and America’s founding documents. With an understanding of the liberal arts of the Western tradition, graduates are able to defend American constitutionalism in the public square.

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Hillsdale College opened the Washington, DC-based Kirby Center in 2010 to nurture the next generation of bright minds in government.

Joshua Holdenried was not interested in a graduate degree program. He said it was clear Hillsdale School of Government would provide a thorough education.

“I was thirsty for intellectual training. It was clear that only Hillsdale could provide a deep understanding of statesmanship and governance from a tradition that has historical respect and accuracy to the vision of the Founding Fathers.

Holdenried is currently vice president and executive director of Napa Legal. Although determined to work his way through the program, the recent graduate was impressed with how accommodating the program was in balancing professional and personal commitments.

“You can’t be a student unless you’re a full-time professional. With a baby, time is limited as a parent, executive, spouse, and student. But it was great working with them to find a schedule that suited my schedule to complete the program and graduate,” he said.

“We should care about the actual education you get. Hillsdale’s School of Government is an accredited program where you dive deep into relevant texts, Socratic discussions with classmates. This focus on religious freedom and a good understanding of church and state made me a better thinker and communicator.

And it matters.

Armed with a new graduate degree, he is determined to advocate more for organizations facing activists determined to erode freedoms. Holdenried helps faith-based nonprofits work as better, smarter nonprofits. From tax compliance to legal abidance, he helps executives and staff fulfill their apostolic mission and ensure the protection of freedom as sophisticated organizations in the public square.

His time at the Hillsdale campus in Washington brought him into contact with his peers, a cross section of professionals working in government agencies, advocacy organizations, and policy-focused nonprofits.

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“A good number of people working on Capitol Hill admire the program,” he said. “It’s a diverse group of people working in government or outside of government who teach or take courses.” In other words, it is common for a chief of staff, senator, or congressman to participate in the graduate mission of the Graduate School of Government.

Holdenried admits the program is very selective, but for good reason.

“Because they invest in you, unlike other institutions where you pay for the degree. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of donors, I was offered a full scholarship. I knew the Hillsdale education was what I wanted. I wanted it more than the diploma itself.

Steve Van Andel, after whom the graduate school is named, is a Hillsdale graduate and a member of the college’s board of trustees. Its endowment gift for graduate scholarships and graduate school operations allows students to study in this unique program and continue working without worrying about educational funding.

The role of a great education in the art of politics cannot be overstated. The value of an education at Hillsdale through the School of Government, he added, is that you understand, appreciate, and then apply the principles of statesmanship, where other programs don’t. do not necessarily accomplish this.

Holdenried, like other Hillsdale teacher training graduates, is so grateful as an alumnus that future students are often recruited by the graduates themselves. So who was the first person Holdenried recruited to study at the Graduate School of Government? His lead attorney.

And the adventure of training well-educated people in the genuine governing arts proves to be a cascading blessing for Dr. Spalding and for America.

This article originally appeared in American Essence magazine.


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