The old controversy over the respective merits of liberal education and vocational training has broken out at New Haven, with the Yale News and Mr. Roger W. Babson, founder of the Babson Institute, new antagonists on an ancient battle ground. A somewhat heated editorial on Mr. Babson's educational ideas, characterizing the business man as "the biggest butter and egg man ever laughed at", aroused the wrath of Mr. Babson, who has retorted with a letter designed to prove--via the Socratic method--the superiority of an institution which develops the fundamentals of a successful business career to the average four year college course.
These fundamentals Mr. Babson describes as integrity, industry, initiative thrift, and promptness, and he pertinently inquires, "Do you think that the environment of the conventional college, especially a large and fashionable college, is the best place for a boy to develop such habits?"
Thus placing the discussion on the prosaic basis of business training, Mr. Babson gives the News opportunity to retort that a college is "no business training school. God forbid." "Living, not business, is life's purpose." And the college is not to be judged in terms of the business efficiency of its graduates.
On this high ground the Eli position is of course impregnable. No short, "intensive course, operated on business hours" of Mr. Babson's devising could pretend to offer the acquaintance with philosophy and art, science and literature, the understanding of the relation of knowledge to life, the broad philosophic outlook on problems of thought and conduct, which it is the peculiar attribute of the liberal college to develop. To follow the eloquent flight of the News editorial, "College book learning is primarily instruction in where to get and how to appreciate not only pure in formation, but all the finest ideas, proven or unproven, all the loftiest conceptions, all the most poetic dreams that the world has created and saved."
But Mr. Babson was not talking about lofty conceptions or poetic dreams. He was speaking of "Training for Business."
It is greatly to be doubted whether the accepted view has not seriously overrated the value of college to the man whose life is to be spent in the ordinary channels of industry and commerce. A recent report on college graduates as railway executives declared as much. The News has stated the idealistic view of college education, its aims and advantages. But the bulk of college students--not the best students in the finest colleges--but the mass of students in the general run of institutions from one end of the country to the other, are not seeking these things. They are not getting them. In theory the liberal college has to offer young men a certain intellectual outlook, a certain type of intellectual power. Many students have no desire for, nor even appreciation of these ends. It is a question whether they have the capacity to attain them. In failing on this ground, the college often takes away those humbler virtues of diligence, pertinacity, and singleness of aim which might have been developed. Even in its best products the college not infrequently creates a discontent and restlessness, a dissatisfaction with the routine of business which disqualifies them for commercial life.
The college graduate with his broader, deeper intellectual training will always be a more necessary leaven in business life. But for the rank and file of "successful" men, minor executives and even major, the value of modern college education as business training remains unproved.
A briefer, less pretentious course such as Mr. Babson suggests, designed to stimulate and develop those particular qualities which experience has demonstrated to be desirable might prove far more valuable. In addition to that more special type of education which the Business School now offers--but with broader appeal, institutions of this sort might relieve the present pressure on the colleges--to the very great advantage of both.