Spreading the Ann Arbor Bacillus: Early Michigan Public Junior Colleges

By Gallagher, Edward A. | Michigan Academician, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Spreading the Ann Arbor Bacillus: Early Michigan Public Junior Colleges


Gallagher, Edward A., Michigan Academician


THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN AND MICHIGAN'S HIGH SCHOOLS

The origin of the public junior college idea and the development of Michigan's earliest junior colleges evolved through the confluence of elitism and the popularization of higher education. University of Michigan presidents wanted to improve the quality of secondary education in the state and elevate the preparation of university students. In time, the high schools might assume responsibility for courses normally offered to university freshmen and sophomores, as the strongest high schools could eventually be extended upward to offer grades thirteen and fourteen--the "junior college years." Local school superintendents often looked to university officials for approval, and some initiated post-high school courses with pride in that they were making more formal education available to local students. University of Michigan paternalism provoked community pride in higher education, leading to the emergence of Michigan's earliest junior colleges.

The sources of the public junior college idea in Michigan can be traced to developments at the University of Michigan during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Henry P. Tappan, President of the University of Michigan during the 1850s, was well aware of the superiority of German universities over those of other nations. He was particularly cognizant of the comparatively low level of American higher educational institutions. Before the Civil War, American "universities" were really only colleges with professional departments or schools attached. These professional departments and schools had low standards as they required little formal preparation for admission. Research was not a major function of any American university. [1]

Tappan's efforts at Ann Arbor were largely directed toward establishing a Germanic university that would become the prototype for a few other elevated American higher educational institutions. His contribution to the junior college idea came through his determination to elevate the University of Michigan by developing a "complete" educational system in the state according to the Prussian model, characterized by "organization" and "uniformity." Though he never articulated any conception of the public junior college as we think of it now, Tappan contributed ideas that spokesmen for the junior college later built upon.

The model of the junior college as the apex of American secondary education was aided in its growth by Tappan's determination to establish a well-ordered system of primary and secondary schools. The principle of organization lay in the idea that each level of education would prepare students for the next level. In order to bring uniformity to the college Preparatory courses offered in Michigan secondary schools, Tappan advocated that all students would take the same courses each year. These two principles were to contain the seeds for the public junior college idea, for improved organization and uniformity in Michigan education, to Tappan, meant that high schools should be extended upward to relieve the University from offering secondary school subjects.

True to the Tappan ideal, the University of Michigan took the initiative in uplifting secondary education in the state. This was most noteworthy during the administration of Henry S. Frieze. It was Frieze who devised, in 1870, the famous "diploma method" of admitting graduates of approved high schools to the University without examination. The rise of so many "good" high schools in the state seemed to preclude the need for entrance examinations. Frieze received the diploma method idea from the German practice: German universities admitted graduates of the Gymnasium without giving them examinations. [2] But because of the lack of uniformity among Michigan high schools, it was necessary that some means be used to insure quality instruction. The solution was found in the practice of sending a team of university faculty examiners to inspect state high schools at regular intervals. …

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