Mr. Russell T. Sharpe, in an article appearing today in the Atlantic Monthly, seeks to reinterpret the relation of the college to the needy student. There is at present a two to one ratio between the requirements for financial aid and the capacity of the channels existing to provide it. Mr. Sharpe constructs the problem, views the current solutions, and remarks that he feels sure that the colleges will face it wisely and intelligently.
This assumption carries many elements of the gratuitous. The colleges have remained under the influence of a very genial and very American fable--the fable whose moral is that the A. B. degree is the prerogative of every home born child of whatever position or attainments. University catalogues have been lavish in their descriptions of unmoneyed young men who have earned many thousands of dollars in the course of their college careers, have become class officers and have merited Phi Beta Kappa. Almost every college, of course, can boast of a few such men in its history, and can embalm them in catalogues for the enchantment of the yokelry. During prosperous years men attracted by their example have been able to survive, to balance precarious budgets and to secure their degrees, but at present the Lorelei have left many stranded upon the inhospitable rocks.
That they have awakened somewhat tardily to their responsibility is attested by a frantic creation of positions, some genuinely useful and reasonable, some incredibly fatuous and wasteful. But this has been insufficient--and now the necessity for a more fundamental attack upon the problem has become apparent. To insure themselves financial security and to prevent unnecessary discouragement and strain to the impecunious, the colleges must squarely set themselves to investigate the ability of applicants to meet the necessary expenses of their support. Those who will obviously require more assistance than the college can provide should not be permitted to swell the queues at the doors of harassed employment offices, merely through an inappropriate delicacy and a vague feeling that democracy should be vindicated.
In the case of men who have already been admitted, however, Mr. Sharpe's statement that all existing channels of support have been exhausted is, particularly at Harvard, open to serious question. The possibilities of student waiters in the Houses have not been adequately explored. It has been commonly objected that such positions would result in inefficiency and in a fostering of class consciousness. Neither objection can be valid in the face of an emergency condition; the second is rather more respectable than the first, but it should not be too soft to expect that good breeding would rise soberly to the occasion. But even if such an introduction might increase the means of assistance at the college's disposal, the duty to meet the problem of admissions with a cautious realism need not be obscured.