Failures of Early American Higher Education

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The Failures of Early American Higher Education The intention of colleges in the United Stated during the 18th and 19th centuries was to create a system that would serve in loco parentis (in place of the parent). In the early years of American higher education, college professors sought to be disciplinarians, who played a parental role. However, the students at these institutions often behaved in a disruptive manner towards teachers, as well as fellow students. This unruly behavior can be directly linked to the economic background of the students attending these institutions, in addition to the philosophies set forth by the colleges. During this time period, colleges attracted mostly upper class men who showed little interest in their academic studies. They were individuals following generations of family members to the institution, and as a result of their connections possessed more authority at the school than the faculty. This issue began to change in the early 20th century, when colleges began admitting more economically diverse individuals. The economic background of the students, in addition to their reluctance to abide by the rules, led to violent and unruly behavior at these institutions. Students who attended these institutions of higher education were typically born into a wealthy family, where the individuals already had made a name for themselves. They survived college, as disruptive students, because college was not a necessity for them to succeed in life. Referring to Harvard College, in his family’s newspaper, the New England Curant, in 1677, Benjamin Franklin wrote that it had become a “rich man’s school, a place that wealthy parents sent their sons to, where, for want of a suitable genius, they learn little more than to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a room genteely” (Lucas, p. 109). Prior to the American Revolution, higher education did not impact the majority of the people first hand. It is estimated that no more than one in every thousand colonists attended any college present before 1776 (Lucas, p. 109). This supports the idea that college was only available to those individuals who had enough money to attend college simply for the ability to move up the social ladder. Many individuals went to college, not for the education, but to continue a tradition set forth by generations of family members. They did not take college seriously, for it was simply the next step, in order to follow through along the path that their family members had paved.

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