Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Higher Learning in America

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Higher Learning in America

Article excerpt

My subject is the higher learning in America. I am sure that when I have finished you will feel that there is very little of it, and very little hope for what there is. And this last is in a measure true. The universities of the country rest on a foundation of elementary and secondary public schools. Most of the higher learning in America is carried on in tax-supported state universities. The situation of all these public institutions is now so critical that unless there is some change in the attitude or condition of our people there is indeed little hope for the continuation of that higher learning which is my theme.

The principal function of the private universities in the educational system is to supply the leadership or the recklessness which shows the public institutions what they should or should not attempt. They have led the way in research and in educational experiment and have demonstrated to the legislatures that it is a good thing for the community to pay professors a living wage. Such payment is not charity which the professor should accept with humility and reward with silence on controversial issues. It is an investment in intelligence. The private universities have struggled to maintain the right of the scholar to exercise his intelligence even though it led him to criticize established policies or institutions. Their example has enabled most state universities to take the same position, with infinite profit to their states. These spiritual values the private universities will always have for the educational system as a whole, but their income, like that of other aggregations of capital, is now so much diminished that they cannot hold out much longer in their effort to present education and research in their proper economic perspective. Our people must, therefore, themselves believe that tax-supported education and research are important and must themselves determine to protect them. At the present time the ordinary American gives little evidence of any such belief or any such determination. We hear, instead, that the cost of government must be reduced.

Although I favor reducing the cost of government if it can be done without crippling essential services, I doubt whether in the long run the total cost of government can be reduced, or should be reduced, or will be reduced, but certain costs of government could and should be reduced. The total cost of government could and should be redistributed, with certain items increased, and other items eliminated. The increases that we may expect in Federal expenditures to support the social services and to provide for the relief of the destitute are far greater than any reductions that can be accomplished by tinkering with bureaus. Even the savings that would come from a reduction in the army and navy and from limiting aid from the Veterans' Bureau to those who deserve it would be swallowed up by the new obligations which the Federal government must assume because of the collapse of our industrial system.

Take the case of public education alone. The principal difficulty faced by the schools has been the tremendous increase in the number of pupils. This has been caused by the advance of the legal age for going into industry and the impossibility of finding a job even when the legal age has been reached. In view of the technological improvements in the last few years, business will require in the future proportionately fewer workers than ever before. The result will be still further elevation of the legal age for going into employment, and still further difficulty in finding employment when that age has been attained. If we cannot put our children to work, we must put them in school.

We may also be quite confident that the present trend toward a shorter day and a shorter week will be maintained. We have developed and shall continue to have a new leisure class. Already the public agencies for adult education are swamped by the tide that has swept over them since the depression began. …

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