“A stroll through classified ads from more than a century ago shows that college was once a buyer’s bazaar for qualified students, and universities rolled out the welcome mat and reached out for the students they coveted. Top-drawer universities like Harvard and Columbia advertised for students steadily through August and September right up to opening day and offered entrance exams the weekend before classes resumed to give students every chance of taking and passing them. Harvard even played down the difficulty of its entrance exam in ads, reprinted above, that it placed in The New York Times in September 1870, noting that of the 210 candidates who took its test the June before, “185 were admitted.” … Yale Law School, one of the most sought-after law schools on the planet, ran ads in August 1868, a time when its own future within Yale University was rocky, regaling students with reasons to consider New Haven. They included “access to library without extra charge,” eight weeks of fall vacation, three weeks of spring vacation and a two-week recess “embracing Christmas and New Year.” And, the ad noted, “students can enter or leave at any time.””
Once upon a time, infants were quietly removed from orphanages and delivered to the home economics programs at elite U.S. colleges, where young women were eager to learn the science of mothering. These infants became “practice babies,” living in “practice apartments,” where a gaggle of young “practice mothers” took turns caring for them. After a year or two of such rearing, the babies would be returned to orphanages, where they apparently were in great demand; adoptive parents were eager to take home an infant that had been cared for with the latest “scientific” childcare methods.
Given the present chaos, should-n’t we be asking if business education is not just a waste of time, but actually damaging to our economic health? If doctors or lawyers wreaked such havoc in their own professions, we would certainly reconsider what is being taught at medical and law schools.
Adult education, nontraditional education, education for returning students—whatever you want to call it—is a substantial profit center for many colleges. Like factory owners, school administrators are delighted with this idea of mounting a second shift of learning in their classrooms, in the evenings, when the full-time students are busy with such regular extracurricular pursuits of higher education as reading Facebook and playing beer pong. If colleges could find a way to mount a third, graveyard shift, as Henry Ford’s Willow Run did at the height of the Second World War, I believe that they would.