In 1836 John Lowell, a wealthy merchant, left a will which established the Lowell Institute for the support of public lectures in Boston. The testament also called for courses "more erudite and particular" at a feed approximately equal to the value of four bushels of wheat. These course survive in the University Extension and, at current market values, still cost only a little more then four bushels of wheat, or $10.
Through its quasi-formal association with the College, the University Extension is thus able to offer what is probably the least expensive college-level instruction in the country. Its combination of low fees and reputation for superior liberal arts instruction makes the Extension unique strong adult education programs and attracts a variety of students unusual to most institutions.
The students range from factory workers with only a grade-school education to professors with several graduate degrees, and from 17 year old girls to 75 year old grandmothers. All hope to take advantage of the Extension's ability to provide some of the best known instructors from the college and other Boston area universities, giving courses that often nearly duplicate those in regular curricula.
"We only require our students to demonstrate an ability to keep up with the course. There are no formal educational pre-requisites," say Reginald H. Phelps '30, Director of the University Extension.
Because of the low costs, students can earn the degree of Adjunct of Arts, similar to the Bachelor's, for only $170 tuition. This degree, $3030 cheaper than the regular A.B., is accepted by all graduate schools in the century.
Actually few go on to get the degree, because it usually takes six years to pile up the necessary 17 course credits and meet distribution requirements. These necessitate regular attendance at once-a-week classes given each evening throughout the academic year in University buildings.
"This is a long hard pull, particularly for people who have full time jobs, as most of our students do," Phelps explains.
"Most of our students just wants to take advantage of our unusual facilities for liberal arts studies, and are not interested in a degree, if only for the reason that many have at least one already. We also discourage them from earning a degree here if they can possibly afford a regular college education with its many intangible advantage," he says.
This term over 1800 men and women are taking an average of one and one-third of the Extension's 34 courses. One finds no classes in Refrigeration, Home-making, or Bookkeeping as in most night schools. "Our endowment wouldn't allow them," Phelps says. "Even if it did, we feel that other programs in the area supply enough vocational courses. This way we fill the real need for liberal arts instruction for adults which might otherwise be neglected, and also avoid over-diversification."
A.A. Student Standard
Although few students--less than one percent--get degrees, their presence has a great effect on the Extension. Because of them, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences periodically checks and approves Extension courses to make sure that they meet regular College standards and may count toward a Harvard degree. University buildings are used for all but three courses, the administrative offices have always been in the Yard, and the Extension directors and over half the faculty members have always been from the University. But the degree agreement is the only formal the Extension has with Harvard.
A commission of the Presidents or Chairmen of 11 educational institutions in the Greater Boston Area supervises the Extension for the independent Lowell Foundation, but is association with the University is vital, for this gives the Extension its uniquely high academic status among adult-education programs. "Meeting the degree requirements is what keeps the starch in our courses," says Phelps.
Extension courses parallel regular college course. They cover the major areas roughly corresponding to elementary departmental courses and often have identical syllabi. Enrollment and funds are too limited to give the more advanced studies, but the basic subjects are given yearly and middle-group courses are repeated every four or five years to allow room for variety. Since 1950, the Extension has also offered elementary General Education courses, usually one from each area.
Mass Half Courses
Yet the courses also differ considerably from other colleges, Harvard in particular. The one-and-one-half-hour lectures are usually given only once a week and prevent credit for more than half courses running through the year. When the material of a half course corresponds to a whole course in the College, its treatment is inevitably more superficial, lectures indicate.
On the other hand, it the corresponding College course is a half-course, more lecture and reading time is available in the Extension program and the work can be more thorough.
The greatest difference from regular College procedure is the comparative lack of individual attention. Shortage of funds precludes sections (although few classes are almost as small as sections) and any phase of the tutorial program.
A.A. candidates must meet distribution requirements, but there is no concentration. Lectures and papers are the only instruction methods used. For these reasons, Harvard does not give credit toward the A.B. for Extension work, although many other colleges do and teachers frequently receive credit from their school boards for such work.
Perhaps the Extension's most important difference from the regular college is in the much greater variety of students attracted by its low costs and high standards. "Go out and round up a hundred people in the Square some night and you'll have a fair approximation of my class," one lecturer said.
Professional men, wives of graduate students and faculty members, university secretaries, and high school teachers are the largest groups, but together they form little more than a majority. The rest of the students refuse to fall into categories. Very few undergraduates take the courses.
All have different motives and back-bounds. Because of the low cost, few worry about losing money if they don't achieve good grades or credit. Likewise, few want to work for many years towards a degree, and except for teachers, most can not get credit in their occupation for liberal arts study. Yet students, whether they are passive auditors, seeking cultural pleasures, or pathetically eager, seldom lack a genuine interest in learning for learning's sake," one lecturer put it.
Another instructor pointed out a woman studying psychology in the hope of understanding her teen-age daughter. Sitting next to her was a dowager who audited all courses on general principles. Graduate students learning French for a reading requirement study with secretaries saving for a trip to Paris.
The white-collar worker who's never ben further away than New York reads American literature he missed in business school next to an Indian student who has studied all over the world and now wants to enhance his knowledge of Americana.
Such variety complicates teaching considerably. "How can I keep that student back there with a Ph.D. interested while I try to get across to the secretary here who's only gone through high school," a History professor asked.
There is the added difficulty of antecedence and homework: "It's impossible to assume that most will attend and do the reading with any regularity, as you can about a college class," one instructor said. "Some come from as far as Providence on the coldest of nights and have read everything I suggested. Others don't even buy the books and attend perhaps half the lectures. At five dollars per half course, each lectures costs only fifteen cents, which few mind wasting."
Each class has problems it shares with no others. The instructor in English for foreign students almost invariably has highly intelligent students, many Full-bright scholars, but each has a different problem depending on his language. In English composition, the intelligence levels vary considerably, though the language is common.
Balance and Cover
Accordingly, each lecturer must find his own solution. All must remember, however, that their courses have to maintain the high standards set by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to qualify those students who want credit. "I lecture for credit students and those willing to work as hard as credit students and let the rest takes what they can," one faculty member said.
A lecturer in another course felt that he could strike a balance. "I have to be especially careful that I cover everything more thoroughly than in college courses where I can assume a prior knowledge of many things. At the same time, because of the greater variety of individual problems, my approach must be more flexible. It's definitely more of a challenge than most college lecturing," he said.
But Extension students have definite advantage over College students that tend to balance their disadvantages. With the possible exception of some credit students they are generally free from the pressure of grades, finances, and parents, which interferes with learning, lecturers agreed.
"I wish my undergraduate students had as much genuine interest in their work," said one lecturer. "Unlike regular undergraduates, I never see any Extension students reading newspapers, even when my lectures probably are most boring. And they ask almost too many questions; you feel that they appreciate their work much more."
Although the Extension uses only the lecture method of instruction, many lecturers thought lectures worked better with adults, at least in the Extension "There is more freedom to teach and learn," one professor said. "You don't feel so much that your colleagues or department chairman are constantly watching, and you are also talking to people closer to your own age. As a result there is more informality and intimacy."
Another instructor pointed out "noticeable advantages which maturity gives students. Certain problems, whether moral of economical, have more reality for people with greater experience."
Several things counteract these advantages, however, instructors admit. Adults are less fluent with abstract concepts in general and have usually forgotten the techniques of learning developed and practiced in college or school days. In language course they find it more difficult to memorize, although that may be an advantage in other studies, one teacher observed. Many adults, unaccustomed to class recitations, are even more reluctant to participate than most reticent undergraduates. "And a leader of industry doesn't relish correction by a professor half his age," one professor commented.
Some professors enter Extension work primarily because they are interested in adult education, others frankly state they need the money. "None have ever indicated that they considered it wasted time," says Phelps.
Other things equal, Extension students who work for credit seem to do as well as their college counterparts, despite the presence of auditors and other ostensible disadvantages. "As adult education the Extension isn't meant to compare with the best in college education, but it generally equals the better," a professor summarized the consensus of faculty members.
Phelps points to the success of A.A. degree graduates as an indication of the quality of work possible. Of the 125 men and 104 women graduates since 1910, 60 per cent to graduate school. The more noted among these include two former professors at the University.
Certainly the quality of the faculty is undisputed. The men invited to teach by the Extension Commission include leading professors from Harvard and Boston Area universities. Lowell's will requires that the stipends be high enough to attract good men, though it also insists that "a lecturer may be taken on trial, but no one shall be appointed for longer than four years, nor from sentiments of delicacy ought his appointment to be renewed when he becomes incapable or superannuated."
Like any liberal arts program, the Extension changes slowly but not unnoticeably. General Education courses have been added with great success, and expansion in that area is going on. "We find Ged. Ed. courses excellent for adults," says Phelps, "and I'm not sure a person isn't better equipped for them when he's over 25 than when's he's 18."
Gen. Ed. Medium
Because Lowell, concerned about providing good lecturers, restricted most of the Institute's funds to salaries, science courses with their expensive laboratories have never been very strong, Phelps says. The Extension hopes to reach a happy medium in General Education science courses.
The steady increase in enrollment seems to corroborate Phelps' statements.
In 1951, the Extension's reach extended through radio broadcasts of lectures, and next year's plans call for telecasts. Recently, an elderly woman with degrees from renowned universities heard and Extension broadcast at her home in Harwich, Mass. She enrolled, and drives over 100 miles once a week to take the courses, staying overnight in a local hotel, and driving back the next day. "It's not hard to be an optimist when someone does that," says Phelps.Extension students of all ages, say instructors, show more interest at lectures than regular college students and usually ask more questions.