William Rainey Harper.

The trend in higher education online

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The small colleges, scattered everywhere, are
but the natural and inevitable expression of the
American spirit in the realm of higher education.
The universities of Cambridge and Oxford, as now
constituted, are an expression of English aristocracy.
The universities of BerHn and Leipzig, and the
gymnasia of Germany, represent most fittingly the
German imperial spirit. The small colleges in
Ohio and Missouri, in Iowa and South Carolina,
and in every state of our magnificent Union, are the


expression of the democratic spirit, which is the true
American spirit. The small college exists today as
a legitimate result of the working of that spirit. It
is as truly American as is any other institution of
our country. The American spirit which has created
these colleges is, after all, the highest and the most
certain guaranty of their continuance, and in this
fundamental fact and factor the others to which I
have referred find their basis.


Among the things which will be found to stand
in the way of the development of the small col-
lege, first let us note the development of the high
schools. The modern high school, sometimes called
the "people's college," is a development of twenty-
five years. Much of the work formerly done by
the colleges is now being done by the high schools.
The course of study in many of the high schools is
more extensive and more thorough than was the
course of study in many of the better colleges thirty
or forty years ago. This course of study is hkewise
stronger and more effective in the results produced
than is the course of study provided in many of the
smaller colleges of today. There is no evidence that
the public attitude toward the high school will
change. If there were no other reason for the sup-
port of the high school by the public, reason enough
would be found in the fact that without such work
it would be impossible to provide teachers for the


lower schools. While much of the constituency of
the high school is a new constituency, a consider-
able portion of it has been drawn away from the
preparatory schools and the colleges. So great a
degree of perfection has been reached in the work
of the high school in many quarters that even those
/ parents who have the means prefer the public high
school to the private academy or college; and by
many, a great incentive to patronize the high school
is found in the absence of a tuition fee. The require-
ments for admission to the high school and the length
of the curriculum have been steadily increasing,
and it seems quite certain that the end has not
yet been reached, since satisfactory arrangements
have been made in many schools for the work of
the freshman year. This is a serious menace to the
small college. The fact that the equipment of the
high school for scientific work is often better than
the equipment of the college which confers the
bachelor's degree, brings reproach upon the college
work when compared with that of the high school.
The preparatory schools of colleges in the West and
South are no longer crowded, because students are
able to secure the desired instruction in the high
school. The influence of this is felt very keenly,
and officers of the small colleges are regarding with
considerable apprehension the rapid growth of this,
to say the least, distracting element.

Another thing which stands in the way of the
small college is the tendency toward specialism.


In earlier years, when the entrance requirements
were lower, it was possible for the student to give
four years of time to work, the aim of which was
general culture. In these latter days, when the
requirements for admission are so high that they
in themselves constitute an equivalent of the college
course of twenty or thirty years ago, and when
young men and women are unable to enter college
at an earher age than nineteen or twenty, it is impos-
sible and undesirable to hold the student to four
years of general work. Already the tendency to
speciahze is seen at the beginning of the third year Mil*"
of college work. This is a natural result of the
privilege of election, and also a necessary result flow-
ing from the large number of subjects offered in the
curriculum. The small college does not furnish the
opportunity to follow out this tendency, and in the
case of many students a longer period than is really
necessary is spent on subjects which sustain no par-
ticular relation to the future work of the student. It
is easy to see the great disadvantage under which
the student works when brought into touch with
his professional studies. In many professions it is »
essential that the technical work of the profession !
be taken up before the age of physical and mental
flexibihty has passed, and especially in lines of sci-
entific work the small college is unable to meet the -
demand made upon it. /

The whole tendency toward specialism, there^
fore, even when held within reasonable and legiti-


mate bounds, is a movement with which the small
college finds difficulty in keeping pace, the more so
because it is evidently not justified in providing
instruction in this or that special line of work, when
the number of its students interested in such sub-
jects is so small. Instruction higher than that of i
an exceedingly elementary character may not be
provided in a great majority of subjects to advantage, /
if the college has a smaller attendance than 150
students; and yet of the 480 colleges and univer-
sities in the United States, about 160, or one- third, .
belong to this class — that is, 160 colleges have less/
than 150 students each. '

As has been said, by far the larger number of
our smaller colleges have had their origin in the
religious spirit. In many of these even today the
spirit is not simply religious, nor indeed simply
Christian — it is the sectarian spirit. Even from
New England one not infrequently hears the cry
from denominational bosses that the denomina-
tional college must be supported, its halls must be
filled by students from the f amihes of those belong-
ing to the denomination, and the denominational
ideas must be propagated, or dishonor is shown
the founders of the institution and the denomina-
tion of which it is a representative. But, on the
whole, the sectarian idea in religion is disappearing;
except in certain sections, a broader spirit prevails,
and sectarianism in education is destined to die
within the next half century or so. In this struggle



against sectarianism the colleges everywhere take
the lead, and one need only study the history of
educational institutions during the last quarter of
a century to see how one institution after another
has quietly passed out from under ecclesiastical
control; and how one institution after another has
gradually, but surely, thrown off the shackles of
the sectarian spirit. If now these colleges have in
themselves strength to endure the struggle, they will
be stronger and better institutions when the struggle
has passed. But many of them are so closely
identified with the sect whose teachings they were
established to promulgate, that with the gradual
disappearance of the sectarian spirit there remains
no longer good ground for their existence, and we
see them steadily losing the place which they once
occupied and taking a lower position; in some cases,
indeed, entirely disappearing. This is especially
true when, on account of the rivalry between differ-
ent sects, more institutions have been crowded into
a particular territory than the territory could pos-
sibly support. Death in these cases is of course a
blessing — not only to the institutions that have
died, but to the world about them.

With the gradual weakening of this narrow reli-
gious spirit — often confounded with the denomina-
tional spirit, but indeed something entirely separate
therefrom — a great source of power and strength
which has hitherto lent support to the building up
of the small college will be removed. Here, then,


A,j £/(Iij<iA is a further serious menace to the future of many
I ^ . I institutions of this class.

The professional schools with low requirements
for admission attract many students who might
otherwise take a college course. This multiplica-
tion of medical schools and law schools of a low
grade is one of the greatest evils in connection with
educational work. It is an evil which seems to be
increasing, and one which, in many sections of the
country, is encouraged for poHtical reasons by our

Of an entirely different character is the policy,
adopted in many institutions, of allowing the college
senior to substitute for regular college work the first
year of the professional school. This concession,
brought about because of the feehng that men must
enter the professional schools at an earher age than
has been the custom, is a distinct blow at the small
college, where no such connection with the pro-
fessional school exists, and where, consequently,
such concession cannot be granted. The relation-
ship of college training to the training of the pro-
fessional school is as yet indefinitely formulated,
but the facts already in evidence show that the
whole tendency of the development of professional
work is antagonistic to the work of the small college.
Men have come to see that in all of the courses
directly preparatory to a professional training,
and indeed in many of the technical courses included
in that training, there is a culture as large and


strong and uplifting as in any subject to which the
student might devote himself; and, besides, it is
evident that in work bearing directly upon one's
life-work the student has a stronger motive and a
deeper interest than he would have in some subject
the significance of which he himself did not appre-
ciate. The problem of correlating college and
professional training is one toward the solution of
which many minds are turning, and from the study
of which much good may be expected in the years
that are to come. But in every case it will be found
that serious encroachment is being made by the
professional schools on the territory of the college.
Closely associated with this development of
the professional school is the development of the
university idea. As has already been said, this
idea was scarcely in existence twenty-five years
ago. But now that the spirit has taken root, great
things are to be expected, and during the next
quarter of a century important strides forward
will be made in many centers of intellectual influ-
ence. To a considerable extent the constituency
of the university will be a new constituency. In
large measure, however, this constituency is drawn
directly from the field of the small college. The
phenomenal increase in numbers of the larger
institutions of learning within the past ten years
is an indication of what is to be expected in the future.
The same spirit which today draws men to the city,
where special advantages are thought to exist, and


where special privileges may be secured, will draw
men to the larger institutions, with their larger
libraries, their better equipped laboratories, and
their more direct contact with life and modern
. civiHzation. With this tendency the small college
must battle. But, however strong the effort
made, in the end the larger institutions will prevail,
and the smaller institutions suffer.

One of the more important, perhaps the most
important, of the difficulties with which the small
college must contend is that of securing the
-•rstiQngest men to do work upon the salary that
can be offered ; and, further, its inability to hold
such men if once they have been secured. This
leads to the adoption of one of two policies. In
some cases the college is wise enough to be satisfied
with having young instructors who are strong
and vigorous, even with the consciousness that
vacancies will constantly occur, and thus innumer-
able changes be made. The disadvantage of this
policy is, of course, the lack of continuity in the
spirit of the institution; but in any case it is an
infinitely better policy than the other one, in accord-
ance with which men of second- or third- or even
fourth-rate ability are employed, with the feeling
that no other institution will cause trouble by call-
ing away the members of the staff. On the other
hand, the larger institution is able, not only to select
the strongest men and to pay them salaries which
will make them satisfied to remain indefinitely,


but also to employ younger men, even at a lower
salary than is paid by the small colleges, because
the younger men see that there is always oppor-
tunity ahead. The women's college, even when a
large one, labors under this same difficulty, because
the strongest men will not consent to devote their
lives to work in a women's college. This is a serious
obstacle in the way of the small college, and one
the difficulties of which increase every year.

The habit of moving from one institution to
another is beginning to gain ground. This is in
some sense in imitation of the German custom,
and when thoroughly considered it is a custom the
advantages of which cannot be denied. Hundreds
and hundreds of students, I might perhaps say thou-
sands, find it to their advantage, for one reason
or another, to spend a portion of their college life
in one institution and another portion in another.
An examination of several hundreds of these
cases shows that in nine out of ten cases it is a
migration from the small college to the larger
one. Impelled by a desire to go out into the
larger world, led by the reputation of some
great teacher or investigator, driven perhaps by
the necessity of earning his livelihood, or forced by
reason of the removal of the family home, the
student finds his way to the university and finishes
the work begun in the small college. Migration
from the large to the small college, however, is com-
paratively rare. This is an index of the situation.


and points conclusively to a tendency from the
development of which greater embarrassment will
fall to the lot of the small college in the future than
ever yet in the past.

The source of greatest trouble to many of our
small colleges in the South, and especially in the
western states, is the state university. Slowly the
influence of this institution has gained ground,
until in some states it has become almost impossible
for the colleges to continue their work with satis-
faction. So strong has the antagonism come to
be that in more than one state the smaller colleges
have joined in an aUiance, the object of which is
to meet the rapid encroachments of the state institu-
tion. In the whole Mississippi valley there are not
more than two or three non-state institutions which
today do not stand in actual fear of the state institu-
tions. The explanation of this is clear. With a
political influence which naturally lends itself to
the state institution; with the large number of
alumni occupying the chief positions as principals
and teachers in high schools; with no tuition fee,
because provision has been made by the state, and
instruction is offered free; with excellent facilities
for work in nearly every line; with fully equipped
laboratories, and with libraries far more complete
than any ordinary college can ever hope to possess,
the state university presents an inducement to the
prospective student which the smaller college cannot
under any circumstances duplicate.


A great outcry has always been made against
the state university that its tendencies were anti-
Christian, and that its students were under influ-
ences many of which were evil and powerful; but
a careful study of these institutions shows that the
facts do not support these charges. In many, if
not in all, of the state universities there is culti-
vated a deep religious spirit, and the Christian activ-
ity and interest in Bible study are greater by far in
proportion than in some of the smaller colleges
which are under denominational control. This
fact is coming to be more and more largely appre-
ciated, and with the appreciation of it there will come
a still larger shrinkage of the constituency of the
small college. There have come to me within one
week letters from the presidents of three colleges
in a single state asking for aid in securing the prin-
cipalship of a high school in the city of Chicago
or in its vicinity. The request was made upon the
ground that it was no longer possible to continue
the struggle of building up a college when the
adverse influences were so many and so strong. It
is an important fact that in some states the influence
of the state institutions has been so great as actually
to prevent the organization of any considerable
number of small colleges. I do not at this point say
whether this condition of things is upon the whole
favorable or unfavorable to the general cause of
education. I merely cite it as an example of what
the small colleges may expect in the future when the



state institutions in their vicinity shall have become
stronger and more powerful.

But, after all, the greatest difficulty of the small
college is its lack of means with which to do the
work demanded in these days of modern methods,
the methods of the Kbrary and the laboratory.
The number of institutions called colleges with an
endowment of less than one hundred thousand
dollars is appallingly large, and yet today the income
of an endowment of one hundred thousand dollars
may be reckoned at only four or five per cent. How
much opportunity does this afford for furnishing
instruction of a higher grade? It should be re-
membered that, as has been already shown, only
66 per cent, of all the colleges and universities
have more than one hundred and fifty students.
This total income is scarcely sufficient to pay the
salaries of three or four men; and yet out of it must
be paid expenditures for administration, for fuel
and light, for circulars and catalogues, for expenses
of every kind. How is it possible to do adequate
work ? A well-equipped academy for two hundred
and fifty students cannot be conducted in these
days for less than forty thousand dollars a year.
The cost per capita of instruction furnished the
high-school students in some of our cities, even
where the classes are crowded, exceeds the average
cost per capita of the instruction furnished in many
of our colleges. The demands of modern methods
have quadrupled the difficulty in this respect. So


long as the curriculum could be restricted in large
measure to the study of Latin, Greek, and mathe-
matics, no great cost was incurred for equipment;
but with the introduction of work in history, political
economy, and political science the requirements for
books and periodicals is very great. With the
introduction of laboratory work in the various
sciences the expenditures required for laboratories
and for equipment are very great. Without money
these demands cannot be met, and yet without
meeting the demands of the present age our colleges
all over the land are graduating students who are
impressed with the behef that they have been edu-
cated in accordance with modern ideas. An
institution consists of the men who make up the
faculty, of the buildings, and of the equipment.
These, however, can be obtained and maintained
only with resources of a liberal character.

These, then, are some of the difficulties which'
confront those who are responsible for the main-
tenance and development of the small college.


We com_e now to the consideration of the changes
affecting the small colleges which may be expected
and are to be desired. First among these will be
the strengthening of some. The laws of institu-
tional life are very similar to those of individual
life, and in the development of institutions we may
confidently believe in "the survival of the fittest."


The severe tests, to which the Hfe of many institu-
tions is subjected, serve to purify and to harden these
lives. The institution which has survived the trials
and tribulations of early years, and, by this sur-
vival, has justified its existence, not only to its con-
stituency, but to the world at large, deserves to hve ;
and its subsequent life will be all the stronger and
heartier because of the difficulties through which it
has passed. The purpose of suffering is, therefore,
much the same in the case of an institution as in the
case of an individual. There will, of course, be
fluctuation, and the institution destined to live and
to exert a strong influence will at times be less strong
than at other times, its chentage less numerous and
earnest, its standard less ideal, and its Hfe less
vigorous; but, here and there, as determined by the
needs of spiritual life, and by the conveniences of
practical life, an institution will gradually grow into
strength which, in the face of even the greatest
difficulties and disasters, will prove invincible.

The small college, as has already been said, is an
expression of the American spirit, and, unless this
spirit is fundamentally changed, there is no reason
to suppose that the time will ever come when, under
proper conditions, there will not be a function and a
mission for the smaller institution. Whatever may
be the development of the university spirit, however
strong the work of professional education shall come
to be, the need of the other kind of institution will
continue to exist and to grow; and if only the means


may be secured for providing the proper facilities, the
worth and standing of such colleges will be increased
and the advantages of such work will be unchallenged.
In this struggle for existence, however, some of
the colleges that have already been organized, and
others, the organization of which is in the future, will
be compelled to hmit their activity to the sphere of
work known commonly as the academic, or prepara-
tory, field. It is probable that a careful examina-
tion of the colleges now chartered in the United
States would show that at least 20 or 25 per cent.
are doing work of a character only Httle removed
from that of an academy. This means simply that
the term "college" has been misappropriated by
these institutions. Surely an institution with a
I library of less than a thousand volumes, with scien-
tific apparatus and equipment which has cost less
than one thousand dollars, with a single building
which has cost less than forty thousand dollars, and
with an income of less than six to eight thousand, is
not in a position to do college work; and yet it is
probably true that more than one hundred so-called
"colleges" belong to this category. Forty years ago
such a college, if its small faculty had contained a
few strong men, might have justified itself; but
today the situation is changed, and institutions of
this kind are recognized at a distance, if not at home,
at their true worth. These, and, in addition, some
that in times past have been more prosperous, will,
in the course of educational development, come to


occupy a more honest position before the world, and
nothing could occur which would be more advan-
tageous to the cause of education. Strong acade-
mies are needed side by side with the high schools
of the state, just as strong colleges and universities,
founded by private means, are needed to work
side by side with the universities of the state.

While, therefore, 25 per cent, of the small colleges
now conducted will survive, and be all the stronger
for the struggle through which they have passed,
another 25 per cent, will yield to the inevitable, and,
one by one, take a place in the system of educational
work which, though in one sense lower, is in a true
sense higher. It is surely a higher thing to do hon-
est and thorough work in a lower field than to fall
short of such work in a higher field.

Another group of these smaller institutions will
come to be known as junior colleges. I use the
name "junior college," for lack of a better term, to ^
cover the work of the freshman and sophomore

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Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperThe trend in higher education → online text (page 23 of 24)