Higher Education in the 21

As we approach the twenty-first century, it is important that a qualified observer, DR. ALVIN C. EURICH of the Fund for the Advancement of Education in the Ford Foundation, should recapitulate some of the enormous advances which have been achieved during the last half of the twentieth century. Dr. Eurich was the first president of the State University in New York and academic vice president of Stanford University during his earlier years.

AS WE turn into the new century we find a world very different from what our parents knew in the 1960s. Travel time to Europe has shrunk to only an hour or so. Television and radio are on a worldwide basis; computers translate languages automatically and instantaneously; satellites give us very accurate weather predictions; and we are on the verge of controlling typhoons and hurricanes.

We continue to avoid a Third World War. In the 1960s, when Russia and the United States were the two major world powers, we twice came precariously close to a nuclear holocaust, once when that atomic bomb was accidentally detonated in the Sahara. Fortunately there were few casualties, and fateful retaliation was avoided. The crater still stands as a tourist attraction and a warning.

Our population has expanded far beyond the optimistic estimates of forty years ago, when we numbered only 186 million people. Today we are approaching 350 million. Our rapid population growth forced many changes. During the first half of the twentieth century we established universal elementary and secondary education. During the second half we made education compulsory through the age of twenty. We needed the additional skills, and we had to protect the labor market, which no longer had jobs for untrained young people. In the process we rebuilt the structure of our educational system. Many ol our former liberal arts colleges — there were once sixty-two in the state of Pennsylvania alone — were unable to solve their financial problems. Since their facilities were urgently needed, local communities transformed them into junior colleges. The result is that a two-year college within commuting distance from home is now available for every young man and woman.

These colleges prepare some students for more advanced college and university work; they also train most of the technicians essential to the professions. Half century ago the Rochester Institute of Technology, under Mark Ellingson’s presidency, set the pace. In the late 1960s the institute moved to a new S53 million campus. Now, alter several periods of expansion, it enrolls more than 50,000 students. Its graduates have played important roles in developing the photographic computer systems which translate written messages. The institute’s cooperative work-study program was, with Antioch’s, among the first in the nation.

During the quarter century following World War II, teachers colleges disappeared completely from the American scene. Their place has been taken by multipurpose institutions which, together with the strong liberal arts colleges and the universities, have discontinued the first two years of higher education, since these now come almost wholly within the province of the junior colleges. The transition was accomplished with surprising smoothness. California and Florida took the lead, and, in the East, one remembers the pioneering of the University of Pittsburgh under Chancellor Litchfield.

The new multipurpose institutions, following the pattern set by Florida Atlantic University under its first president, Kenneth R. Williams, now admit qualified graduates from the junior colleges and offer three-year programs, culminating in the master’s degree. During the last quarter of the century, there were heated debates at meetings of the Association of American Colleges on the question of whether the baccalaureate degree should be granted at the end of junior college work. The traditionalists won; the junior colleges continued to award the Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree, while the baccalaureate of arts or science fell into disuse because students going beyond junior college pursued a program leading directly to the master’s degree or a professional degree.

The largest universities, with their clusters of professional and graduate schools and research institutions, have now become virtually self-contained cities. Some, like New York University, enroll more than 200,000 students. We continue to wonder whether these institutions are getting too big.

During the past half century, the content of education at all levels was profoundly strengthened in two ways: we became much clearer about the objectives of education; and leading university scholars from various disciplines became so alarmed about our soft education that they produced, in cooperation with schoolteachers and administrators, new curricula extending from the kindergarten through the graduate and professional schools.

Our economy ol abundance and a better system ol distribution have made us less concerned with the strictly professional or vocational aims of education. Even in the sixties students were ceasing to value a college degree by the additional earning power it conferred. We now minimize the time spent on acquiring practical skills and factual knowledge. Instead, we place more emphasis on developing wisdom about major ideas, as in the course on great issues which President Dickey inaugurated in his first years at Dartmouth. Our employment of knowledge, as of leisure, is more satisfying than it was in the early days of the affluent society, when men were consumed, to the point of boredom, with strictly materialistic pleasures. We recognize the truth expressed by Mark Van Doren fifty years ago: “Freedom to use the mind is the greatest happiness.”

THE revival of philosophy and ol the humanities emerged gradually. By the late sixties it had become clear that a spiritual malaise afflicted American life. Studies of the national character seemed to indicate that America had “run out of gas”; individuals felt dominated by the vastness of their own social institutions and by a national style of conformity also referred to as “other-directedness.” Conservatism gripped the nation, and the question arose whether America had “any more great business to conduct. People of all ages had difficulty adjusting themselves to the twenty-four-hour work week, and they began to question if the zealous accumulation of creature comforts had not reached a point of diminishing returns.

College students became impatient with vocational preparation and a general smattering of culture. Through such organizations as the “Challenge symposia and the various groups concerned with civil rights, the movement gathered strength lor the redesign of higher education. Graduate students rebelled against the sterile but exhausting competition for degrees; it was they who forced a revival of humanistic thought, so that even our great technical institutions, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sought a better balance in their curriculum through a renewed emphasis on the humanities.

Scientists, furthermore, had succeeded in creating life, so that human evolution need no longer be left to chance. This discovery intensified the philosophical search for better answers to the age-old question about the ultimate destiny of man.

We are just now beginning to take seriously Ortega y Gasset’s insight set down years ago in his Mission of the University: “The need to create sound syntheses and systematization of knowledge, to be taught in the ‘Faculty of Culture,’ will call out a kind of scientific genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration, the genius for integration.” At Brown University, President Barnaby Keeney was one of the first to initiate an Institute for the Synthesis of Knowledge.

The most radical difference between today’s colleges and those of fifty years ago, however, is not in the curriculum but in the use of learning resources. The use of television as an educational medium in colleges developed swiftly after it was introduced in the 1950s. Educators resisted, but demonstration after demonstration, such as those carried on at Pennsylvania State University, established the truth that televised instruction was educationally effective and economically feasible. In 1962 some 30,000 courses were given over television in the United States. But more years were to elapse beiore colleges recognized that television had made the standard lecture obsolete and the conventional laboratory demonstration inadequate and costly.

The objections to the use of television were essentially the same as those raised at Oxford and Cambridge in the latter part of the nineteenth century when the “university lectures” were proposed. At that time the Oxbridge dons predicted that the innovation would reduce the separate colleges to mere appendages. What actually happened was that the colleges became far more vital when professors were relieved of the responsibility for lecturing and could devote themselves to probing the minds of the students, individually or in small groups. The students, of course, were enabled to hear only the very best lecturers in each field.

So, too, with television. The first glimmer of this came in 1958-1959 when a basic college physics course was offered over a national network under the direction of Professor Harvey E. White of the University of California, one of the nation’s best physics teachers. During the year, seven Nobel Prize winners — Brattain, Kusch, Rabi, Block, Seaborg, Anderson, and McMillan — and other distinguished scientists helped to teach the course. They represented an array of talent that no single university could possibly have afforded. The following year, a chemistry course was similarly offered, by Professor John Baxter of the University of Florida, an outstanding teacher. He, too, was aided by eminent chemists from academic, industrial, and governmental laboratories. Other courses in biology, government, economics, and the humanities followed in rapid succession, first on national networks and then, with the success of Telstar, across national boundaries.

Now, fortunately, lectures by some of the greatest scholars are available on electronic tapes. Because it was not until the middle of the 1960s that we began systematically to record the leading scholars of the world, we missed many great men who lived in the twentieth century, such as Enrico Fermi, Henri Bergson, and Sigmund Freud. Under our present system, the senior laculty members, having been spared the drudgery of repeating over and over the basic substance of their fields, are in fresher mind to work with students on advanced topics. Moreover, the students themselves have a firmer grasp of the subject matter, because they have studied the taped lectures at their own rate of comprehension, reviewing them on kinescopes as often as necessary. Television has, in short, provided us with the technology we needed to build a genuine system of mass education, one in which each student has an equal opportunity to learn, no matter where his college is located or what its resources are.

We have also made enormous strides in the teaching of the individual student. Here the most exciting developments have been in independent study, honors work, programmed learning, and language laboratories. Programmed learning, so common today, was hardly known fifty years ago. True, Professor Sidney Pressey at Ohio State University invented the first teaching machine in the 1920s — a device which is now permanently on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. But it was not until the 1950s, when Professor Skinner developed another machine and carried on his experiments at Harvard, that programmed learning began to attract attention. After various experiments in the sixties at Harvard, Hamilton College, and numerous secondary schools had clearly demonstrated that students learned faster with programmed materials than with conventional texts and lectures, this scheme of instruction developed into one ol the most ellective resources for adjusting instruction to the individual student’s rate of learning.

The resistance to programming was different from that which had confronted television. Educators knew what television was, but, perhaps because the commercial programming was so vulgar, they refused to grasp its pedagogical implications. In the case of programmed learning, though, most college teachers and administrators did not even know what the new technique was; they only knew that, because of its unfortunate linkage with teaching machines, they did not like it.

As we can now see so clearly, television and programmed learning, both introduced into education in the 1950s, defined the limits of a spectrum of instructional resources. Television provided the medium for mass instruction; programmed learning provided the ultimate in individualized instruction. Within this range, including other devices and procedures, such as motion pictures, filmstrips, language laboratories, and increased scope lor independent study, a new diversity was added to the educator’s repertoire. These resources enabled us to break the ancient framework that for so long had held college education in a rigid pattern. No longer do we have to divide the school day into fixed fifty-minute periods; no longer do we measure a student’s progress by the number of credit hours he has banked; no longer do we march all students through the same series of lectures and classes.

Today, flexibility and adjustment to individual differences are axiomatic. Each student progresses at his own rate. Much of the time he studies on his own, or with fellow students, but always with instant access to the complete range of learning resources: taped lectures, programmed course materials, language audio-tapes, bibliographies, and original documents on microfilm.

COOPERATIE arrangements among colleges and universities provided another means of bringing the most competent faculty members and learning resources to more students. This, too, developed slowly at first. In the 1930s President Lotus D. Coffman of the University of Minnesota urged the Midwestern universities to share their library resources, but it took a full half century before institutions of higher learning saw the folly of competing with each other by trying to build up all academic disciplines. Dr. Coffman urged uniqueness and strength rather than standardization and mediocrity. The University of Minnesota, he rightly observed, was distinguished in Scandinavian literature. Why should other universities try to be equally strong in this area? Within its W. L. Clements Library, the University of Michigan possessed a rare collection of books and documents in American history. Why not send advanced students to Michigan rather than try to duplicate this resource? Some years after Coffman’s death, his dream was partly realized with the construction in Chicago of the Midwest InterLibrary Center.

Seeing the major advantages of pooling library resources, the Midwestern universities moved forward quickly and cooperatively in other areas. Their Committee on Institutional Cooperation gave graduate students the opportunity to move freely from one institution to another on a short-term basis to take advantage of special opportunities— Purdue’s bionucleonic laboratory, or star scholars, such as those in Egyptology at Chicago. Under the leadership of presidents Herman Wells of Indiana and Frederick Hovde of Purdue, a cooperative instructional program was further extended over a closedcircuit television system tying together the campuses at Lafayette and Bloomington and including the centers in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Evansville. With the success of the Midwest Airborne television instruction of over five million schoolchildren and the invention of multichannel electronic tapes for broadcasting, basic courses in the sciences and humanities were offered to students in all the major universities in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario. These courses supplemented the instructional program offered over Telstar on an international basis.

The universities also recognized the economy of combining their purchasing power. An InterUniversity Authority now purchases and distributes supplies and equipment required on the various campuses. The need for such an operation was obvious in the 1970s. when very expensive computer systems for all types of activities became essential on every campus.

The smaller colleges were profoundly affected by all these cooperative arrangements. Their own initial efforts included groupings such as the Claremont Colleges, the Richmond (Virginia) Center, and the Connecticut Valley Colleges, involving Amherst. Ml. Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts. For a long time, such simple matters as not having a common academic calendar prevented students from crossing campus lines in their programs of courses. But during the latter part of the twentieth century the colleges found that they were still competing too much and duplicating their instruction. Renewed efforts were made until there was hardly a college left that was not a member ol a cluster of institutions sharing facilities and programs. Each group is affiliated with one or more universities, an arrangement which first became dramatically visible in 1963, when seven faculty members from ihe University of Chicago personally offered a course on Civilizations from South Asia to a hundred students from Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr. and Haverlord colleges, with one of these faculty members flying to Philadelphia each week. This is another way by which students gained access to the educational resources of a widespread academic community instead of being limited to the offerings of a small institution. In the process, too, the advantages of a smaller group have been preserved.

Even more drastic are the changes in our libraries. As a result of research carried on not only in the United States but also in Japan, India, Belgium, Holland, France, and England, we have revolutionized the techniques of storing and transmitting information. Most of our documents arc now reduced to pinpoint size and stored on film. We have established the National Research Library, which, as John Kemeny of the Dartmouth mathematics department predicted some years ago, has reached more than 300 million volumes in miniaturized form. Through a multichannel cable, we can instantly transmit information from these volumes to reading units on campuses throughout the country. The space previously used for storing books has been freed for faculty study, reading rooms, and independent work.

Even the architecture of our campuses reflects the innovations in teaching techniques. Iowa State University, the University of Miami in Florida, with its visual communication building, and Stephens College, with its comprehensive learning center, pioneered in constructing academic facilities that make the maximum use of diverse learning aids. For the lectures over television, students now quite generally listen to portable television sets in their own rooms. These lectures are followed by small group discussions in dormitories, patterned after the “House Plan” first tried out some years ago by Stephens College. The programmed learning laboratories are open twenty-four hours every day, and students may study whenever they desire to do so.

Along with the clarification of objectives, the upgrading and updating of the curriculum, the use oi a variety of devices and procedures for learning, and the new library system, we have also vastly improved the process by which students arc admitted to the colleges and universities, and the way in which they progress through the course of study. Questions like these inspired reforms:

If students learn at different rates of speed, couldn’t some of them achieve the goal in three years, or two, while others worked at it for five or six? Would it not be wise to tell the student what is expected of him, what the end result of his liberal education should be, and then let the student decide, with such guidance as John Finley used to give his students at Eliot House, Harvard, how he can best make use of the university’s resources?

To answer these questions, the colleges had to define more precisely the goals they were striving for in the liberal education of students. Whereas under the old system the administration could lean heavily on the accumulation of credit hours as evidence that the student was acquiring an education, the new system required the colleges to devise adequate measures of achievement.

The important point was that students began to progress with complete flexibility. The principles of early admission and admission with advanced standing, which did so much to facilitate the transition from high school to college fifty years ago, were applied as well to the transition from college to graduate work. Standard measures of achievement in each basic subject were devised. But students could meet these standards at their own rate of learning and in a variety of ways.

The system which emerged was pioneered in California under a plan initially worked out by a commission headed by President Arthur Coons of Occidental and strongly supported by President Clark Kerr of the University of California. Virtually all California students progressed at their own rate from high school to a junior college. The top third of these students, plus some who entered advanced vocational programs, went on to college. From college, approximately the top 12 percent advanced to the university.

During the latter half of the century we also made great strides in the use of the educational plant and facilities. With the crowding of students on the campuses there was neither time nor money enough to build the necessary classrooms, laboratories, and dormitories. In the 1960s the idea of using the campus on a year-round basis caught on, and administrators discovered that existing facilities could accommodate at least 25 percent more students. Now it would be unthinkable to permit buildings to remain idle for three summer months.

Nor do we any longer tolerate such luxurious use of academic facilities as we did during the academic years of the first half of the twentieth century. Then, except for a very few metropolitan universities, we occupied our classrooms primarily in the morning and our laboratories in the afternoon. With the large federal student-aid program for veterans following World War II, some universities changed their practices. Stanford University, for example, was among the first to do so. Dr. Donald B. Tresidder, who was then president, appointed a director of planning — the first position of this kind to be created in any university. An analysis of plant use during the last pre-war year showed that with better use of available space the enrollment could be doubled.

To make maximum use of land. President Tresidder planned an industrial park. And to attract to the area industries whose research interests related to a university, he created the Stanford Research Institute. During the last half of the century, this compound of a first-rate university, the Research Institute, industries with broad research interests, and government projects such as the two-mile-long linear accelerator has set a pattern followed in most university centers of the country.

As we look back over the progress of higher education in recent decades, we may wonder when the major changes began to develop. It is difficult to fix an exact date, but I believe a turning point occurred in the mid-1950s and 1960s. First we were spurred by Sputnik; then, in the years 1964, 1965, and 1966, the colleges felt most keenly the increase in the demand for higher education. The college population nearly trebled during the sixties and seventies, with the most acute increases taking place in the mid-sixties.

It was this tremendous increase, I think, which galvanized the leading colleges and universities into action. Through such relatively simple reforms as year-round operation, control over proliferating courses, and better use of independent study, many colleges found they coifld enroll up to one third more students without any significant increase in costs.

Now, here we stand in the year 2000, at the dawn of another century. During the past forty years colleges and universities, like society itsell, have moved farther and faster than in all previous history. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.”We are a long way from a system of higher education that cultivates the full potentialities of man, regardless of race, color, creed, or economic status. But an orderly world of rationally free men can settle for no less.