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NICHOLAS MURRAY BUTLER Professor of Philosophy and Education in Columbia University, New York





Professor of Public Administration in the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois




No satisfactory exposition of the existing condition of commercial education in the United States can be written at present. Such an exposition would be based upon a full knowledge of the historical development of such instruction as well as upon full and accurate statistics of its present condition. Neither of these presuppositions have been thus far realized. No one has yet devoted the time and attention necessary for a proper monographic treatment of the different aspects of this development. The department of such instruction which has made the most pronounced progress is that of the so-called commercial college, i. e., the elementary technical school intended to prepare pupils for clerical work. It is not known, as will be seen later, exactly when such work was begun in the United States or by whom or where, and the facts about the subsequent development are difficult to ascertain ; indeed, one may say it would be impossible for any one person to collect the facts necessary to enable one to treat the subject historically in a thoroughly satisfactory way. On the other hand, the statistics of the present condition of this department of instruction are unsatisfactory.

The bureau of education at Washington has labored faithfully for many years to collect as thorough and accurate information on this subject as possible, but limited as it is in the funds placed at its disposal for collecting and revising and checking up statistics, it is impossible for it to collect information in regard to all the schools which are actually at work from year to year.

The statistical reports of the various departments of education in the different states are, if anything, still more unsatisfactory; in fact, they are almost worthless for the purpose in hand, since none of them, with

the single exception of those of the University of the State of New York, are of any real value.

It was felt, however, by the authorities having in charge the United States exhibit at Paris that it would be desirable to make the best presentation which under the circumstances might be feasible, trusting that the defects which will be made apparent by this exposition may be remedied at some future time by those in a position to do so.

The opportunities for formal school preparation for a business career which are now offered in the United States may be roughly divided into four classes. First: The “commercial college ” of the well-known type, an institution of which the merits have been frequently underrated, but which has already accomplished much good, and which seems to indicate in its constant evolution and advancement the possibilities of a very high grade of usefulness hereafter in the somewhat restricted field which alone it seeks to occupy. Second : The business courses of the public high school, meagre and illiberal hitherto, but growing constantly richer, more popular and more generally introduced, so that there is an early prospect of well-designed, highly attractive and deservedly favored schemes of business instruction in our secondary schools, culminating in our larger cities in distinct and separate high schools of the commercial type, not only fairly comparable to the best schools of similar grade in continental countries, but surpassing them in some respect. Third: Private endowed schools, more or less technical in character, introducing commercial courses which, in their best form, seem tending to realize the desirable standard of secondary business education. Fourth : College and university courses, which promise to embody the conception of higher business instruction in colleges of commerce, the work of which, largely technical, will not be inferior to the ordinary undergraduate courses of our American universities, and which, under favorable circumstances, will parallel for the future business man the advantages which have been hitherto offered in graduate courses for those who are preparing for other careers. When the inherent promise of all these kinds of business education has been realized, there will be no failure in this line of work, fairly chargeable either to the public or to the private system of American education. We shall have ample opportunities for preparation in business activity open to all young men and women, looking forward to engaging in any capacity in commercial and industrial occupation. Lest this judgment of the future of business education in America seem too optimistic, it may be best to give not only an account of the present conditions, but also a résumé of the historical development of each of the four classes of business training, which have been just now indicated.

If the average American were asked what opportunities exist in the United States for training toward a business career, his immediate and unhesitating answer would refer to the “commercial college,” and probably to that alone. This institution is peculiarly American; nothing exactly like it is known in other countries. It embodies the defects and excellencies of the American character, and typifies in itself a certain stage in our development. Its almost spontaneous origin, its rapid and wide diffusion, its rough adaptation of primitive material to the satisfying of immediate and pressing needs, its utter disregard of all save the direct answer to current demand, and then gradually its recognition of present inadequacy, and its determination toward broader, fuller usefulness, these characteristics of the commercial college mark it as essentially the product of a young,

1 The summaries of statistical tables show the number of students in commercial courses in each of the five classes of institutions in each state of the United States. The totals are as follows for the year 1897–98: In universities and colleges .

5 869 In normal schools..........

5 721 In private high schools and academies

9 740 In public high schools ......

31 633 In commercial and business colleges...

70 950 Total for United States

123 913 - Report of United States Commissioner of Education, 1897-98, p. 2451, Advance Sheets

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