The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Commercial

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Education, Commercial
Edition of 1920. See also Business education on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

EDUCATION, Commercial, a general system of modern education to prepare youth for commercial pursuits which follows the usage of many European schools and colleges, where the selective courses for pupils on entry are designated as either “commercial” or “classical.” The commercial high schools of the public system of education of the United States are organized with industrial aims to give “a general education of such a nature as best fits youth for commercial pursuits.” Supplemental or higher commercial education is furnished by extended scientific training in university departments, in schools of technology, or in independent trade and business schools and colleges.

About one-third of the pupils in high schools in the United States in 1917 were taking commercial courses. Government reports from 31 cities of 100,000 population and over show that from 10 to 60 per cent of all high school pupils take commercial courses, and that of these Boston and Milwaukee have the largest, and Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton have the lowest per cent. There were special high schools in 1916 in Boston, Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Springfield, Syracuse, Washington and Worcester. The pupils who receive special commercial instruction in the government high schools, and even in the special commercial high schools, continue the study of related academic work with the other pupils from which they are not separated; for commercial instruction is looked upon as general education and is treated as such. While the private business schools have had very definite, if narrow aims, to which they have adhered strictly and logically, the commercial education of the government secondary schools has been more or less a concession to the demands of business interests and practical life; and of late educators have begun to insist that the commercial education of government institutions should be better organized and that its aim be more definitely stated. At present (1918) pupils taking commercial courses in secondary schools give only about 25 per cent of their time to technical commercial education. Another 25 per cent is devoted to “related work” and 50 per cent to “general culture.” The private business schools, on the other hand, go direct to the goal they have set for themselves. The result is that they cover, in from six months to one year, the same commercial work that the secondary schools require from two to four years to accomplish; and the pupils of the private business colleges are taught in a more exact and businesslike way. Hence the popularity of the latter, though they charge comparatively high fees. In other words, commercial education in the government schools has not yet become individualized, as it has in Germany, where it has developed into a system by itself and not a comparatively unimportant part of a general system, as it still is in the United States. Hence the need of a general reorganization of commercial education along pedagogic and practical lines; for the necessities of business life continue, from year to year, to make more imperative and extensive demands upon the public school system. Owing to the fact that commercial education forms a part of the ordinary school curriculum of secondary importance, most public schools are poorly equipped as to organization and the other machinery necessary to meet the ever-increasing demands made upon them by the business world, which is still pinning its faith to the private business college, which to exist has to keep its ear close to the ground.

The commercial courses of the government secondary schools may be divided as follows: General office work and bookkeeping; stenography, typewriting and the operation of office appliances; secretarial work, which requires more careful training and higher academic requirements on the part of the pupils; and salesmanship. The program of the commercial education of the secondary schools is theoretically good; but in practice it has a decided tendency to be too technical at the expense of accuracy and practicability. On the other hand the private business schools aim, above all things, at speed, accuracy and practical results, and trouble themselves very little over questions of a technical nature, when they are not absolutely necessary to the end in view. The demand being made upon secondary schools is, therefore, that they study more carefully the needs of commercial life and that they impart more intensive instruction and practice in each individual section of commercial education so that their pupils may be enabled to step from the schools into subordinate positions in business concerns. To this end it is necessary to increase and improve the office appliance departments of the secondary schools and to place them in the hands of trained practical teachers, as the better class of business colleges have already done.

Commercial high schools in the United States are confined, for the most part, to the larger cities. They differ very little except in name and the number of pupils taking commercial courses, from the ordinary secondary school with attached commercial courses. Not one of them is primarily a commercial school whose aim is, first and foremost, the teaching of commercial subjects and the preparation of pupils for business life. Even in these schools the equipment of other departments is generally favored at the expense of the commercial. In other words, the commercial education of the United States secondary schools has no traditions to live up to and no definite aims to assure definite results. Until these are attained it must continue to live on sufferance, with other branches of education which have traditions and aims. But little improvement can be hoped for in the teaching of commercial subjects in the government schools until such time as the ordinary high school and the commercial school are divorced and the latter is allowed to follow its own life and maintain a teaching staff trained to keep the needs of commercial education constantly in view.

Students. — There were, in 1917, approximately half a million students in commercial courses in the United States. The Bureau of Education had the names of more than 1,300 independent commercial and business schools, exclusive of the hundreds of other business schools forming departments of normal schools, private schools and other institutions, Only 843 of the independent business schools in 1916 responded to the request of the Bureau of Education for statistical information. The reports thus furnished show that there were in the 843 business schools reporting 133,286 students, an increase of 15,223 over the preceding year. The reports of 762 private high schools show that they had, in 1916, 17,706 students in business courses. The 2,863 public high schools of the country, during the same period, had 208,605 students in their commercial departments. Of the pupils reported in the private business schools 130,431 were in day and 52,855 in night courses. The total number of students reported to the department as in commercial courses was made up as follows:


Number   Males   Females   Total
Private high schools  762 9,360 8,346 17,706
Public high schools  2,863 92,226 116,379 208,605
Commercial schools  843 94,870 88,416 183,286
 Total 4,468 196,456 213,141 409,597


Thus it will be seen that the hundreds of business colleges and other institutions having commercial courses, but not reporting them to the department, should easily have increased the number of students in commercial courses to 500,000 in 1917, when the demands of the war had given an added impulse to this ever-growing department of education. Massachusetts led with the highest number of pupils in the public high schools, 28,489, New York coming second with 27,887; but as the latter had more students than the former in private high schools and academies, the total of students of commercial courses, exclusive of the regular private business colleges, was New York, 29,563; Massachusetts, 29,485. Pennsylvania reported 17,544 commercial students in the public high schools, and 2,539 in private high schools and academies, a total of 20,083; Illinois, 13,923 in public high schools, and 1,349 in private high schools and academies, total 15,272; New Jersey, 12,444 in public high schools, and 319 in private high schools and academies, total 12,763; California, 11,567 in public high schools, and 582 in private high schools and academies, total 12,149; Ohio, 10,191 in public high schools, and 995 in private high schools and academies, total 11,086. Michigan and Wisconsin had each about 8,000 commercial high school students; Connecticut about 7,000; Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Washington between 5,000 and 6,000; Maine, Rhode Island and Kansas between 3,000 and 4,000; New Hampshire, Nebraska, Maryland, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee and Oregon between 2,000 and 3,000; while Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah and the District of Columbia had each over 1,000.

The trend of business education in the public schools is shown by the reports of the Bureau of Education for sections of the country as follows: In the North Atlantic States, in 1915, 1,066 high schools are reported as having 109,298 commercial students; the North Central States, 1,424 schools and 70,406 students; Western States, 564 schools and 26,690 students; South Central States, 315 schools and 10,551 students; and the South Atlantic States, 256 schools and 9,369 pupils.

In 1916 there were 54,871 students and 1,511 teachers in the 241 private commercial schools of the North Atlantic States; 76,709 pupils and 1,664 teachers in the 344 schools of the North Central States; 22,926 pupils and 530 teachers in the 110 schools of the Western States; 16,515 pupils and 318 teachers in the 84 schools of the South Central States; and 12,265 students and 286 teachers in the 64 schools of the South Atlantic States. The total number of students reported taking commercial course in public and private high schools and business colleges, in 1915, was: North Atlantic States, 164,169; North Central States, 147,115; Western States, 49,616; South Central States, 27,066; South Atlantic States, 21,631. Everywhere, except in the North Atlantic and Western States, the private business schools were turning out more commercial students than the government institutions. The 843 private business colleges and schools reported to the government as in their employ 4,309 teachers in 1916.

In the fiscal year 1914-15, 19,019 students graduated in commercial courses; 27,836 in amanuensis courses; 14,588 in combined courses; 1,729 in English courses: and 980 in telegraphy.

Higher Commercial Education. — In 1915 there were over 10,000 students studying commerce in the colleges and universities of the United States. At the head of these was New York University wth 2,260 students. The University of Pennsylvania had 916 students of commercial subjects; North Western University, 790; University of Wisconsin, 484; University of Illinois, 423; Boston University, 378; University of California, 320; University of Chicago, 220; University of Pittsburgh, 213; and Saint John's, Ohio, 207. In all 60 colleges and universities were reported as having instruction in commercial education; and of these 25 had 100 or more pupils each.

By the middle of the last century, owing to the vast increase of business throughout the civilized world, business men had already come to feel the need of special technical commercial education for their employees. As early as 1855 Gustav von Mevissen, the great European financier, in a report to the Chamber of Commerce of Cologne, advocated the higher education of business men with the surplus capital of the commercial world. But though the business men of Europe felt the need of business education for their employees they struggled vainly against the traditions of the schools, colleges and universities; and it was in the New World that the business college first came, in a measure, to supply the needed business education. But it was not until the universities turned their attention to this field that the dream of von Mevissen might be said to be in a fair way to became realized. He himself began the good work by founding a commercial college at Cologne. But the real pioneer in higher commercial education was the University of Pennsylvania which in 1881 established the “Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.” Seventeen years later the University of California founded a similar course leading to the degree of B.S. And in the same year the University of Chicago also added a commercial department with the degree of B.Ph. In 1900, New York University, and in the following year, Columbia University, and in 1902, the universities of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan established commercial courses with the bachelor's degree. Now (1918) most of the important universities of the United States have more or less complete commercial departments. The Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, established in 1908, and the Amos Tuck School of Administration and Finance, opened in 1900, in connection with Dartmouth College, go further in this respect than the other universities, admitting to their courses only college and university graduates whom they train for business and public affairs.

Bibliography. — Allinson, Mary, ‘The Public Schools and Women in Office’ (Boston 1914); Eaton and Stevens, ‘Commercial Work and Training for Girls’ (New York 19l5); Farrington, F. E., ‘Commercial Education in Germany’ (New York 1914); Herrick, C. A., ‘Meaning and Practice of Commercial Education’ (New York 1904); Hooper and Graham. ‘Commercial Education at Home and Abroad’ (London and New York 1901); Kahn and Klein, ‘Principles and Methods in Commercial Education’ (New York 1914); Thompson, F. N., ‘Commercial Education in Public Secondary Schools’ (Yonkers-on-Hudson 1915); Richter, K. E., ‘Commercial Colleges in Germany’ (New York 1913); ‘Report of Conference on Commercial Education and Business, in the University of Illinois’ (Urbana-Champaign 1913); ‘Report of the Commissioner of Education’ (Washington 1917).

John Hubert Cornyn,
Editorial Staff of The Americana.