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   65 4 The Roots of Student Aid In England and elsewhere in Europe, the idea of aiding poor students—especially “clerks” or church students—was well established by the thirteenth century. When the city fathers of Oxford lynched some clerks in an ugly town-gown episode in 1209, the penalties levied on Oxford by the pope included semiannual grants and an annual feast for poor students, as well as curbs on student rents and food prices.1 Aid for medieval students came from many sources—the crown, bishops and dioceses, local benefactors, and colleges themselves. And before universities were fully established, rival “masters” offered tuition discounts to get more students to take their lectures.2 Types of aid varied, from free places given in return for doing college chores to access to kitchen leftovers or a license to beg like a mendicant priest. Some fee remissions foreshadowed today’s “income-contingent” loans: recipients were supposed to pay them back if they came to “fatter fortune.” Why provide all this? The starting point was Jesus’ care of the poor and afflicted, linked to the idea of supporting pious learning. Wealthy philanthropists found a niche here, funding the studies of “chantry scholars ” who would then pray for their benefactor’s soul. More importantly, the church looked on poor students as a pool of future priests and administrators ; the church ran much of the country’s legal apparatus, but priestly work did not attract the rich and well-born.3 Student aid, though, seldom reached the poorest. It required basic literacy, and some scholarships explicitly excluded villeins (serfs). Loans were interest free, in line with the church’s ban on usury, but they often 66   part II The Way of Elite Colleges required the deposit of a book—a costly item in those days—or a goblet, a cloak, or a piece of furniture. The commonest beneficiaries were the ambitious sons of tradesmen and yeomen (small farmers), relatives of clergy, and those who caught the eye of a local patron. Richer students sometimes took along servants and poorer comrades and subsidized their studies; they might be useful later if they rose to high office. The results of all this were uneven. Educational opportunity depended on luck, on where you lived and who you knew as much as on merit and need. By the early 1500s, too, in France as well as England, there were plenty of complaints that colleges were giving free places to the wealthy and privileged, though upper-class students seldom deigned to graduate.4 Yet the tradition of aiding poor students had staying power, surviving England’s transition from Catholicism to Protestantism. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the typical donor of endowed scholarships was a rich merchant or lawyer, devoutly evangelical, who gave as an act of constructive Christian charity, earning social respect in this world and good marks in the next. Such people believed that giving to schools as well as colleges could help aspiring and promising youth to rise out of “vicious” poverty and ungodly ignorance. They believed, too, that assisting poor scholars, often bound for the church, could build an educated and active clergy, shining light into dark places.5 Colonial Colleges These ideas carried over to the New World—directly so as several scholarship donors to America’s first college, Harvard (founded in 1636), were London merchants. Well into the nineteenth century, the college looked on student aid as a way of attracting “useful” talent to the ministry.6 Church connections could even trump financial need in determining who got aid. Samuel Mather, class of 1723, son of the famous church leader and writer Cotton Mather, had a scholarship given by Thomas Hollis, a London Baptist merchant, which required both piety and need. Piety he had in plenty—he told tales on classmates for reading “vicious” works— but needy he was not.7 In general, though, Harvard’s grant aid went to poorer students. Its The Roots of Student Aid   67 biggest scholarship donors in the colonial period were far more apt to require that recipients be “poore” or needy, preferably kinfolk, than to stipulate piety or future service in holy orders.8 The college itself did not confine its grant aid to ministerial students as some other colleges did in their early years. It saw aid more widely as a way of recruiting poor and promising students to become enlightened leaders against “barbarism, ignorance , and irreligion.”9 In addition to endowed scholarships...


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