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school. If by this means we can get a system under which both the examination and the school record are used to determine the desirability or fitness of a student for admission, and add the provision of a personal interview or inquiry in all doubtful cases, we shall have gone far forward in introducing what I call the human element into the solution of this problem. Candidates for college admission would no longer be regarded as mere numbers or letters, to be recorded on a tabulated list by the terms of some hard and fast rule.
In order that we may not allow this human element to escape us, we are also proposing that this Committee on Undergraduate Admission shall keep in touch with students after their admission, in case there is any reason for doubt as to the satisfactory character of their progess. A boy may be ambitious and genuinely anxious to succeed, but yet may not be able to adjust himself to his new environment without help and counsel. If he were still in school he would be advised and helped about all such matters. On the other hand, it is the habit of the college to-day to treat this side of the boy's nature as quite alien to it, and to leave him to trust to luck or to his own unaided resources. Under these circumstances where one boy makes the most of his opportunities, two boys fail to do so. We are going to ask our committee to try to follow these students personally and earnestly, with a view to helping them where they need help, advising them where they need advice, and in general starting them with sure foot on the right way to take advantage of the college course. If we can accomplish all these things—and we are going to try hard to do so—I think we shall have made no small contribution toward the final solution of the problems of college admission. We shall have found a way to remove many criticisms which are now urged upon the results of the examination system pure and simple; but most important of all, we shall have changed the opinion, both of the college teacher and of the school teacher, as to the character of the transition from school to college. We shall have helped to make it appear a normal and ordinary occurrence, not an extraordinary and cataclysmic event.
There is another aspect of this matter about which I wish to say a word. We used to have at Columbia, and I suppose most other colleges had or still have the same thing, a system of deciding upon the results of college admission examinations on a purely mathematical and formal basis. Every boy who had complied with the minimum requirement was accepted for admission and substantially everybody else was rejected. It became evident to some of us that this was not sound educational practise, and we found a great many parents and a great many school teachers who held precisely the same opinion. At that time I was so fortunate as to be a colleague on the college faculty of the late Professor Price. Largely at his initiative and owing to his influence we relaxed the rigorous application of the printed rule and endeavored to show some appreciation of the human element in the problem of college admission. We found a good many boys who had not quite fulfilled the minimum requirements who, nevertheless, when once admitted to college, made excellent students, sometimes the very best. Then it dawned upon us that our mistake consisted in endeavoring to use, as a final and absolute test of fitness to enter college, an examination which was not entitled to have any such preponderant weight. We discovered that by the strict application of our form of rules we would keep out of college almost as many good and well prepared students as we would let in. In other words, if a college fixes a hard and fast entrance requirement and rejects every one who does not comply with it strictly, that college will do as much damage to education as if it had no standards at all. Human beings can not be measured as to their attainments by the laws of mechanics. They must be measured by laws which spring from human nature itself. The real way to deal with these candidates who in some measure fall short of the minimum requirements is to say, for instance, in some cases, “You are not ready to come to college. If we admit you, we know you are going to be burdened with your work. You will probably fail in the examinations of your Freshman year. You will have neither pleasure nor profit in the work of that
year. It will be intellectual economy for you to go back to a secondary school for another term or year, and to take up once more there the subjects in which you appear to be weakest.” In other cases it may be wise to say, “It is true that you have not entirely complied with our minimum conditions of admission. Nevertheless, you are in good health, your school record for four years past is satisfactory; it is not bad even in those subjects in which your examination is pretty poor. Therefore, we feel that there is reason to believe that you can probably do yourself justice in college, making a creditable record. We are going to give you a term or a year to prove whether we are right or not.” In this way, without in any particular lowering the standards of admission, we apply those standards so as to improve educational conditions and not so as to do them damage.
One of the most important changes that has come over the American college has gone hand in hand with the steady widening of its constituency. When the American colleges were young, indeed when some of them were old and substantial, there were very few boys who went to college without a serious, definite purpose. They were looking forward to the ministry, to teaching, to law, or to medicine; not many of them looked forward to merchandizing or to finance. This condition is now entirely changed. It has become fashionable to go to college, at least to some colleges, and a great many boys are now going to college each year who, I am convinced, get more harm than good from their college residence and college life. This new type of college student goes to college primarily for a social purpose. He desires to share in the attractive associations of an American college. He desires to participate in athletic sports. Not infrequently he is looking forward to becoming eligible for membership in the University Club of his native town. It is, on the whole, a good thing that boys of this type go to college, provided the colleges will recognize their existence as a type and will deal with them accordingly. The mistake that has been made is in treating this new type of undergraduate, in judging him and testing him by the same academic standards and academic methods that have been developed for the serious minded student. When this happens, only one of two results is possible. You must either let down your whole standard of scholarship to meet the capacity of this rapidly growing element of the college population, or you must bring up the performance of this new element to the traditional standards set for serious minded men. Neither of these results, however, is either wise or in the long run practicable. The real escape from the dilemma is to learn the lesson taught by the University of Oxford, which is to draw a distinction between the treatment and the prestige accorded to those who come to college as serious minded students and those who come to college for the sake of the incidental social benefits which the college has it in its power to confer. Oxford has long distinguished between the candidate for the pass examination, and the candidate for the honors examination. I hope that the day is not far distant when we at Columbia will apply the principle underlying this distinction to our American conditions. Let the new type of student come to college, if he will, but say to him distinctly at the outset, you must subject yourself to the discipline of proved value which is offered in this particular curriculum. If studies satisfactorily and stay here four years, conducting yourself like a gentleman, you may be graduated with a pass degree. On the other hand, let it be said to the scholar, here is the full, rich opportunity of modern science and modern literature spread before you. We will do the best we can to seek out and to help you express your native capacities and preferences. We will allow you to combine in any practicable fashion the studies which interest you, and in which you prove yourself successful, and which enables you to grow intellectually and morally. We will lead you on to graduation with honor and distinction, and give you a special crown or palm of scholarship. When the colleges generally recognize this distinction and act in accordance with it, they will have adjusted their methods to the changed con
ditions of the twentieth century and will silence much of the criticism now raised against them.
After all, this again is merely the introduction of the human element into the life and work of the college, and it is this human element that we are seeking and have need for not only at the time of college entrance, but thruout the college
We are constantly making headway despite the many and dolorous voices that rise on every side of us to urge contrary opinion. When you remember how far we have come in twenty years, you will perhaps agree with me that it is not unreasonable to believe that we are approaching the time when every college authority will realize that the college entrance examination is not a boundary between two strange and alien educational territories, but rather a bridge, well and helpfully guarded, over which those may pass who go from one friendly field to another. The introduction of the human element into the administration of college admission requirements and into the college admission examinations, is the way out of our difficulties. In the creation of the committee whose existence and functions I have described, we at Columbia have done the best we know how to do toward accomplishing this end.
NICHOLAS MURRAY BUTLER