restricted access 6. Seeking Equity and Order
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  111 6 Seeking Equity and Order The 1930s Depression gave colleges good cause to worry about getting enough students. It also produced sharp disagreements about financial aid policy and the role of the federal government. In general , economic devastation followed by war led to a new stress on aid for the needy. It produced the first formal intercollegiate system for assessing need and monitoring student-aid policies. Depression Differences America’s undergraduate population fell by about a tenth in the early 1930s, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of eighteen- to twenty-one-year-olds, before resuming its long-term growth. Enrollments at some private colleges took a sharp knock, causing worries about loss of student quality as well as revenue. The student population as a whole shifted to state and commuter colleges, where low charges counteracted a general lack of scholarships; most gave none.* Some “subway colleges” and others actually increased their enrollments.1 Crosscurrents of policy and opinion were particularly strong at pri- *The late congressman Carl Elliott, from a poor Alabama hill district, told of camping out as a student in the University of Alabama observatory. The only “financial aid” came from a groundsman who illegally wired his cooker into the college electricity. Later, he got a job as a grader from a sympathetic professor. His experiences, contrasting with those of the snobbish fraternity smart set, stimulated his later championing of federal student-aid bills. Elliott and D’Orso, The Cost of Courage (1992), chap. 3. 112   part II The Way of Elite Colleges vate colleges. As economic trauma shook traditional practices and beliefs, colleges and their leaders reacted in different ways. Many faculty and students collected and gave money for emergency student aid. Colleges often deferred tuition payments (a form of temporary loan) and increased their scholarship spending from general funds. Low-cost “co-op” housing became more common, too, at both public and private colleges. At the same time, some colleges limited their intake of students needing aid—a new resorting to what would later be called “need-conscious” or “needaware ” admissions, though Trinity College (later Duke) had done it back in the 1890s, also because of financial crisis. Some eastern colleges became more dependent on old upper-class money to supply full payers.2 Many colleges, including elite ones, lowered admissions standards to keep up enrollments, but at Cornell, as elsewhere, there were worries that student jobs might interfere with study. The catalog discouraged all students except those with “great determination” and strong health from taking jobs: academic work must come first.3 Conservatives continued to fear that too much aid would create dependency , a “gimme” attitude as one put it, especially if the aid came from the federal government. Although most colleges gratefully accepted the new federal “workstudy ” funds for student employment, some of the richer colleges preferred to use their own money. Smith’s president Neilson started with the program but left it, claiming it inflicted too much red tape for too little money. At Princeton, on the other hand, the alumni magazine flayed Williams and other elite colleges for not accepting federal aid, whatever they thought of Roosevelt’s New Deal administration. That Williams had gone into the red expanding scholarship aid from its general funds was no excuse . The editors debunked three specters of government aid at Williams and other colleges: extravagant “Santa Clausing” by the government; dangerous federal control of the colleges; and the admission of too many unqualified students in a move toward mass higher education—a fear that surfaced again in early stages of the GI Bill.4 Disputes were not confined to the role of government. A row that broke out at Northwestern in 1935 pitted several deans, led by the education school’s Ernest Melby, against President Walter Dill Scott and a powerful personnel director, Elias Lyman. The deans tried in vain to get Scott to spend much more on need-related scholarships. Melby’s side ar- Seeking Equity and Order  113 gued that this spending would more than pay for itself by increasing enrollment as well as maintaining student quality. A contrast was drawn between serious students struggling to make ends meet in the Depression and rich socialites from the collegiate culture that had developed in the twenties. Melby’s portrait of the poor, dedicated teacher-trainee was a secular version of the old church-student ideal.5 At Swarthmore, different ideas developed more harmoniously, as befitted a Quaker establishment. The faculty...