The problem of limitation of numbers apparently blooms perennially at Harvard. Hardly has the ghost of racial discrimination been laid to rest, when a new speckle arises provoked by the registration of 930 men in the Freshman class. When the enrollment figures for the entering class rise in three years from 621 to 930, no question of classification of transfers can after the fundamental fact that the size of the student body is increasing at a dangerously rapid rate.
With college education becoming the rule rather than the exception, there is a real need for institution which will offer opportunities higher than those of more trade schools to the relatively few students who want them and can profit by them. The need has been recognized before and Harvard is apparently anxious to be among such institution. The problem is to establish a system, one of whose prerequisites is limitation of numbers.
The idea of selection according to race or religion has little to recommend it. An intelligence test, personal conference, geographical or graduate personal conference geographical or graduate preference, arbitrary fixation of numbers, and a raised standard of admission are what apparently remain. Turning its back on all of these except the last, the Harvard special committee on admission, in its report last April, recommended "several steps in the way of excluding inferior students". It is too early to judge whether these steps have served their object. Certainly they have done nothing to solve the problem of enrollment.
What remains? Requirements for admission might possibly be raised still further, but it is a question whether this would be of any value except to attract precocious students. On the other had it is possible to follow the example of the Yale authorities who have decided this fall to limit the size of the Freshman class to 850. Unfortunately, however, they have not yet made public the methods by which they hope to do this.
Hitherto most plans have been based on some direct limitation on entrance and have proved either ineffectual or inexpedient. But one suggestion approaches the problem from a different point of view. Most critics have started with the ideal of a college of exceptionally high standards secured by means of limited enrollment. A far more logical way would seem to lie in reversing this attitude and in developing, as far as possible, a college which, like Oxford and Cambridge, will appeal only to select and limited numbers.
In such a college emphasis would necessarily be shifted from education for a specific purpose to general education. The mechanics of the change would probably include the extension of the tutorial system and the abolition of some of the specifically professional course, particularly among the sciences and in economics. It would probably be advisable to raise the standard of college work rather than the standard of entrance examinations. In a word it would have to be clear that a man who was seeking specific or professional education would not find it at Harvard College. And if this were once understood, it is likely that the entrance problem would be less serious.