Who’da thought it? Despite college graduation rates being lower than we’d like, over the long haul, a higher percentage of colleges than students have failed.
In Texas for every cornerstone at an institution still functioning, there are at least two gravestones marking others that failed.
Churches led the way in establishing colleges. There were a couple of dozen in operation before the publicly-supported Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M) and Alta Vista Agricultural College (now Prairie View A&M University) opened in 1876. (That’s right — the Aggies didn’t have any reason for big November bonfires until UT came along seven years later.)
Someone said that church-related colleges were founded on the “four f’s”--faith, friends, freshmen and funds. A few leaned far too heavily on faith, and despite gaining charters, either soon failed or were never opened.
Of 93 private colleges established between 1837 and 1900, only 22 were still in existence in 1992. Even these underwent mergers, changes of names/locations or mission revisions.
Weatherford College, Texas’ oldest continuously operating two-year school, had a curious beginning.
It opened as the Phoenix Masonic Lodge School.
The cornerstone, provided by the Granbury Masonic Lodge, was laid--belatedly--on July 5, 1869. The ceremony had been scheduled earlier, but on the 25-mile trek from Granbury, the Masons encountered a band of Indians. An unscheduled battle superseded the cornerstone placement.
Methodists bought the college in 1889, when Weatherford College was born.
Texas Christian University in Fort Worth has been in four locations, including twice in Cowtown.
It was first a “private school seminary” operated for male and female students. It was founded by Addison and Randolph Clark, preacher brothers who were officers in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Their well-meaning father, proud of his sons, bought some land a few blocks away to expand the seminary. Unfortunately, “hell’s half acre” — known for saloons, gambling halls and houses of prostitution — sprang up. About the same time, it was announced that the railroad was coming to Fort Worth. The Clarks, certain that the environment would corrupt their seminarians, pulled up stakes and moved to Thorp Spring in rural Hood County. It operated there for some 22 years — “five miles from any known sin.”
When the school fell on hard times in 1896, it moved to Waco. A fire leveled the campus in 1910, when TCU was relocated to its current campus in Fort Worth.
Public institutions flourished after World War II, when enrollments started to skyrocket.
Then, in the 1970’s, two-year schools came of age. During much of this era, a new community college opened somewhere in the US on the average of one per week. Before the end of the century, most Texas collegians of freshman and sophomore status were in two-year schools.
Among early critics of these schools was then Baylor President Abner McCall, a man never known to mince words. “If Pidcoke had a Chamber of Commerce, there’d be a junior college there,” the late educator said. (Indeed, there were few rules at the time for establishing college districts. Pidcoke is a community about an hour’s drive from Waco; and population there has stood at 30 for a long time.)
At one college a century or so ago, board members were determined to hire a strong, God-fearing leader for president.
During an interview, a board member asked what the candidate could tell them about the “widow’s trick.” The candidate responded, “I have no knowledge of such a trick.”
He was ultimately hired, told later that he would NOT have been had he provided facts concerning the “widow’s trick.” Turns out it is a gambling term used in card games, and they didn’t want a president who knew about such things.
Oh, there’s a ton more interesting stuff about higher education institutions in Texas.
Most of them, I believe, are committed to goals admonished by Socrates, the philosopher who hoofed it around Greece saying important things some 400 years in advance of Christ’s earthly arrival. “Whom do I call educated?” Socrates one day asked. “First, those who learn to manage well the circumstances they encounter day by day.”
This remains a worthy goal. Society expects much from all levels of education--perhaps more than can be delivered. For public or private education to “work,” some intangibles like civility, commitment, patience and values must prevail. Sometimes we have but a fingernail hold on such intangibles.
Dr. Don Newbury is a speaker and writer in the Metroplex. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. His Website is www.speakerdoc.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org