Free Degree

President Conant, who already has several degrees to his name, has proposed a new title, Bachelor of General Studies, for many millions of his countrymen. In his latest book, "Education in a Divided World," the President has again propounded his "community college" plan, designed to carry education through the thirteenth and fourteenth years for those Americans unable to attend four-year institutions. Community colleges are to be free, easily accessible schools which complete their work in two years and then grant to their graduates the "B.G.S." degree.

This scheme is consistent with the most up to date thinking in education today. Last December President Truman's Commission on Higher Education reported that 49 per cent of the entire United States population was mentally capable of passing the thirteenth and fourteenth grades, or the freshman and sophomore college years. But the Commission also noted that only 25 per cent of the population ever gets as far as the fourteenth grade. For the remaining untutored 24 per cent the Commission and President Conant have urged the local two-year college, tailored to the needs of the students and the community.

Some economists have said that if this 24 per cent receives higher education, professional people will soon glut the market. This could not hold for the community college. Its graduate would not gain an LLB. or an M.D.; he would receive a B.G.S.; signifying that he had become a keener citizen by two years, a more useful wage earner by two years, a wiser family man by two years. What community or what nation can suffer because it is too alert, too prosperous, too wise?

Community colleges, however, will not cover the continent until they are adopted by the Federal government, the states, and the communities. Both President Conant and President Truman have plugged hard for federal aid to education, but last summer a bill providing such aid failed to emerge from Congress.

The separate states can act in two ways. Legislatures can pass permissive legislation allowing cities and towns to expand their school system. Massachusetts granted this permission two years ago. And, second, the states must boost the community college plan with state funds and state facilities. Massachusetts has not gotten around to this yet; the Commonwealth boasts only four such terminal schools--in Holyoke, Newton, Northampton, and Springfield. Cambridge has 110,000 persons and plenty of tax receipts, but it has no community college, an ironical statistic for a city that compasses majestic Harvard and majestic M.I.T.


Finally, members of each individual community should press for the college plan. It is good to have fresh proof that President Conant is leading this campaign in Cambridge as well as in the nation.