Our New Elite Colleges
Since the end of World War II, a significant change has taken place in the character of the so-called prestige college, a change which is bound to affect the patterns of American higher education in general. Scholastic aptitude-which used to be a relatively minor consideration in the selection of applicants to these colleges-has now become the major criterion for admission, with important results for the caliber and composition of their student bodies.
The one most important factor contributing to this change is the steadily increasing number of Americans who go to college. Thomas Jefferson felt that democracy required equal educational opportunity for all, but he thought that three years was as much schooling as most people could reasonably use. By the Jacksonian era, however, it was generally believed that democracy required at least a grade school education for every citizen. Still later, democracy came to be considered ill-served by such minimal progress, and between 1870 and 1955, the rate of high school attendance increased twenty times faster than the rate of population growth. Higher education naturally followed suit. In 1947, a Presidential commission concluded that half the young people in America were capable of taking at least two years of college and that a full third could manage the entire four years.
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