PRESBYTERIAN COLLEGES AND ACADEMIES IN NEBRASKA
BY FRANK E. WEYER, DEAN AND PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION,
SUMMARY: A RECAPITULATION
This investigation has been concerned with setting forth the historical background, the beginnings, the growth, and the character of Presbyterian activity in promoting education in Nebraska. From the first effort, one hundred and six years ago, the Presbyterian Church has been deeply interested in the problems of religion and education in Nebraska. Special attention has been directed toward the history of the educational institutions established as a part of that program. It is the purpose of this concluding chapter to summarize the significant aspects and results of this study.
The first Presbyterian undertaking in Nebraska was a mission to the Pawnee Indians, begun in 1834 under the supervision of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. In the course of four decades conditions changed: many of the Indians were removed from the State by the United States Government, and this work was, therefore, largely discontinued. Upon the opening of the Territory to white settlement in 1854, there was need of a ministry to the new settlers, many of whom were of Presbyterian background. This work, often given the assistance of two Boards of the Presbyterian Church – Home Missions and Church Erection – soon came under the supervision of the newly founded Presbytery of Omaha (1858). By 1860, nine churches, with a total membership of 195, had been established in such important towns as Bellevue, Brownville, Nebraska City, Platte’s Mouth (now Plattsmouth), and Omaha City (now Omaha).
Many of the early Presbyterian missionaries were zealous young men, recently graduated from college and seminary, eager to establish Christian educational institutions, as well as churches, in the newly settled area of Nebraska Territory. Hence, one of the first items of business to which the Presbytery of Omaha gave its attention was a proposal "to take steps toward" establishing a Presbyterian school in the Nebraska Territory (1859). The outbreak of the Civil War delayed action until 1868, in which year Otoe University was organized as the first Presbyterian school in its area. Twelve years later (1880), a second Presbyterian educational institution, Bellevue College, was chartered; and there followed one each year as follows: Oakdale Seminary (1881), Hastings College (1882), and Pawnee City Academy (1883), making a total of five such institutions.
Unfortunately, two of these institutions were initiated more as promotional real estate ventures than as carefully planned educational enterprises. They were hastily opened without adequate provision having been made for their maintenance. Consequently, they were short-lived. Otoe University existed for only four years; Oakdale Seminary, for ten years. However, in spite of the closing of these two schools, Presbyterian interest and concern for higher education survived.
A third school, Pawnee City Academy, now closed, occupied a prominent part in Presbyterian educational history for a quarter of a century; and the fourth institution, Bellevue College, battling with many difficulties for four decades, survived the World War [I] period. But it was so crippled financially that classwork ceased in 1919. For fifteen years various attempts were made to resume its work, but without success. In 1934, the institution was officially closed by its Board of Trustees.
Many times throughout this study, various limitations or weaknesses in the efforts of Presbyterian education in Nebraska have been revealed or suggested. The fact that five such institutions were organized while only one remains suggests certain weaknesses. It was noted that careful planning and cooperative action was lacking. This was in part due to the fact that most of the schools were organized largely as local enterprises. In some cases, the organizers had real estate or personal interests. On the other hand, at the time that these schools were established, long- range planning for the future was a most difficult, if not altogether unthought-of matter. The state was new, population was increasing, various natural resources seemed unlimited, and educational facilities were largely lacking. It is not surprising that many ventures, including the establishment of educational institutions, were looked upon as experimental.
For the most part, the Nebraska enterprises were patterned after educational institutions located in states immediately to the East. Here, it was seen that similar schools had developed as the communities developed. In some states, a single denomination had established several schools. At this early period, it seemed that the Presbyterians should do the same thing in Nebraska. Before these institutions could become well established, however, the economic and educational situation had completely changed. For example, there was no way to foresee the rapid rise of the public high school and the sudden termination of the work of the academy. The academy, although usually offering a richer program of studies for the secondary student than did the new high school, could not compete with the free high school because it did not have a constituency able and willing to support the program. When the academy formed the preparatory division of the college, as at Bellevue and Hastings, its decline was less disastrous because it was more gradual and the institution thus had an opportunity to readjust its program of work; but it was a much more serious matter at a school such as Pawnee City Academy, where all the work was confined to the high school level. If Pawnee City Academy could have added new courses and possibly a junior college division, it might have continued to serve an important need and to have developed into a permanent institution.
Various other limitations to the work of Presbyterian education appeared from time to time. At each of the institutions, leadership both within and without was sometimes unequal to the demands of the situation. At times friction tended to delay or thwart united action. Inadequate and uncertain financial support, mentioned many times in the history of each institution, was another serious handicap. Every recurring economic and climatic misfortune, including panic, depression, drought, and grasshoppers, had made support even less certain or substantial. However, in spite of limitations and failures, these institutions have had a part in building the educational program of Nebraska.
Differing motives and purposes prompted the various attempts to establish Presbyterian higher education in Nebraska. The earliest ventures clearly reflected the financial interest of the frontier proprietary or real estate promotion agent. Such attempts ended in failure. With the coming of the permanent settler, such motives as those which prompted the establishment of earlier Presbyterian academies and colleges in America found expression in Nebraska. In summary, those earlier purposes were as follows:
1. To prepare ministers for the church,
2. To perpetuate Christian principles, especially as interpreted by the Presbyterian Church,
3. To promote the general welfare of man,
4. To help promote and sustain democratic government,
5. To cooperate in the establishment of a system of state education to aid in realizing the ideal of universal education, and
6. To help preserve academic freedom.
Some of the above purposes figured more prominently in establishing academies and colleges in Nebraska than did others; likewise, some of the purposes have been more nearly realized than have others. However, in harmony with Presbyterian philosophy each of these traditional standards has been emphasized with varying degrees of effectiveness. It must be recognized that various other agencies of society, including the public school, now emphasize many of these same standards. It was the Calvinist philosophy, however, which to a large extent first gave impetus and meaning to these ideals and still continues to emphasize them. It may be that in the emphasis upon such objectives lies a significant reason for the continued importance of our parallel educational system.
As a vigorous exponent of education, the Presbyterian Church has not only been led by the desire to perpetuate its own institutional existence, but has been motivated more and more by the larger purpose of advancing man’s general welfare through universal education, popular government, and scientific investigation. It has striven to make the Christian philosophy of life the driving force in all areas of living, in order that life may have its maximum meaning. It has interpreted a Christian college as "one which develops Christian character and purpose in its students." To the extent that these various objectives have been realized – to that extent, have the Nebraska institutions kept faith with the objectives of the Presbyterian educational philosophy.
The matter can be visualized best by reference to some of the more significant aspects of Presbyterian higher education in Nebraska as expressed in the one remaining institution. For the past two decades Hastings College has represented that interest. The records of this institution make possible a study of trends up to the present time, whereas in the case of the other schools such a study is impossible. The following summary, therefore, deals with the one functioning example of Presbyterian philosophy in [Nebraska] higher education.
The story of Hastings College represents the combined effort and unquestioned loyalty of many hundreds of people. On the Board of Trustees alone, one hundred and sixty-eight individuals have enlisted their interest and given their leadership, serving an average of 9.6 years. Two men have served for thirty years, three for thirty-three, and one for thirty-seven years. Their occupations, in the order of frequency, include the ministry, business, law, medicine, teaching, dentistry, and farming. They are indicative of a wide variety of interests and points of view and have brought to the College a rich background of training and experience, which has been helpful in determining institutional policies. Local approval and support are evidenced by the fact that about one-third of the trustees have been local men. The out-of-town men have come from forty-five Nebraska towns and nine out-of-state towns. Hastings College has been most fortunate in the devoted loyalty and wise leadership of its Board of Trustees.
The strength of a college in its academic work obviously lies in its faculty. Three hundred sixteen men and women have been appointed as members of the faculty. Their academic preparation has varied. In the first decade most of the teachers of such special subjects as music, art, and commercial work, constituting thirty-nine per cent of all the faculty, did not hold a Bachelor’s degree. The number of teachers with an advanced degree increased from thirty-two per cent during the first decade to seventy per cent during the last decade, with an advanced degree now held by all teachers of academic subjects. The number of faculty members employed at any one time has varied according to the student enrollment, ranging from five during the first year to fifty-one in 1934. The average tenure of the faculty covering the entire history of the College is 4.5 years. During the first four decades it was 3.8 years. Thirty-four per cent of the faculty have remained but one year. Three of the 316 teachers have taught thirty or more years in Hastings College, and ten others have taught more than twenty years. In 1936-1940, the average tenure of those about the rank of instructor was twelve years. The present tendency clearly is toward better academic preparation and lengthened tenure. The study also reveals the fact that from time to time a number of rather outstanding personalities have served on the faculty, some of whom have achieved national recognition in their fields of specialization.
Student enrollment during the early years was small. It increased slowly and irregularly for forty years. During the first twenty-five years, enrollment in the academy department exceeded that in the college. By 1915 enrollment in the college classes began to increase notably; and, following the trend of the times, reached the maximum in the 1928-1929 academic year, when the total enrollment for the nine-month college year was 807, and for the twelve-month period, 1,038. During the past fifteen years the median number and percentage of freshmen who have remained in college until graduation is as follows: freshmen, 200; sophomores, 138 (68%); juniors, 87 (42%); and seniors, 72 (36%). Most of the students who have attended Hastings College have come from localities within a short radius: thirty-two per cent have been local students; sixty-one percent have come from a radius of fifty miles; eighty-two per cent have come from a radius of one hundred miles; while only eighteen per cent have come from a radius of more that one hundred miles.
The first graduate of the College1 received his degree three years after the institution was established, but the alumni roll grew slowly, only one hundred having been graduated during the first twenty-five years. Most of the alumni of the College, therefore, belong to recent classes, more than one-half of the total number of alumni having been graduated during the past ten years. This fact has an important bearing on the occupational study regarding the alumni. Many of the younger alumni have not yet made permanent vocational choices. Teaching, business, the ministry, medicine, law, and farming, together with homemaking for the women, represent the occupations of the majority of the alumni. Teaching has attracted thirty per cent of the total number; and of those who are teaching, eighty-five per cent are employed in some phase of public school work. The ministry, preparation for which was once a primary aim in establishing Presbyterian colleges, is now the occupation of only seven per cent of the alumni, whereas during the first twenty-five years about on-fourth of the alumni went into this work. Numerically, however, about as many alumni now go into the ministry or related work as went into it during the earlier years. A noticeable trend among alumni of recent years is their entrance upon graduate or professional work immediately upon college graduation. Twenty-one per cent of those graduating during the past five years have entered upon such study. Most of the women who have been out of college more than ten years are homemakers.
The mobility of the alumni is suggested by the fact that eighty-five per cent of the students have come from Nebraska and thirty-two per cent have come from Hastings, while today only fifty-five per cent of the alumni live in Nebraska and 7.6 per cent in Hastings.
The increased cost of American education during the past fifty-eight years is strikingly reflected in the items of board, room, and tuition at Hastings College. The cost of tuition has increased from $20 to $150 per year, or almost eightfold; board has increased from $72 to $179, or has somewhat more than doubled; room rental has increased from $12 to $65, or about five-fold; and the total of all items has increased from $105 to $409, or about fourfold. The major items in the budget are administration, maintenance, and instruction. During the earlier years the items of administration and maintenance constituted a relatively smaller percentage of the budget; but within recent years they have so increased that they now constitute a combined amount slightly larger than that of instruction. The present distribution is administration, twenty-seven per cent; maintenance, twenty-four per cent; and instruction, forty-nine per cent.
Financial support for Hastings College through its fifty-eight years has come from three main sources: tuition, gifts for current expenses, and income from endowment. Stated in terms of percentage of the annual budget, these items have varied as follows: tuition, from 22.1 per cent to sixty per cent; gifts, from 6.3 per cent to 49.3 per cent; income from endowment, from 2.5 per cent to 27.4 per cent. The present trend is toward having the student body pay a relatively larger share of its own education, as illustrated in 1935, when tuition supplied sixty per cent of the income; gifts, thirteen per cent; and endowment income, twenty-seven per cent. Four major campaigns have yielded most of the endowment. Each campaign has had some strong impelling motivation. The first $15,000 was given by Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, Sr., in 1889, on condition that the debt of $37,000 be cleared. The impetus for securing the first $100,000 in 1907 was Andrew Carnegie’s conditional offer of $20,000 for a library-science building. Pressure for North Central Association accreditation led to the completion in 1916 of the required $200,000 endowment. A gift from the General Education Board of $135,000 on condition that an additional $315,000 be added and that the college be free from debt was the challenge of the 1925 campaign. Gifts for current expenses have come from two main sources: individuals and the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education. The latter has represented the more reliable source of income. This has varied from 6.3 per cent to 49.3 per cent of the total annual income. However, it has often been the gifts of individuals which have enabled the college to close its year free from debt. Financial support thus finds expression directly or indirectly through one of the three main sources of income: gifts, endowment, and tuition.
Throughout its history, the program of study of Hastings College has undergone many changes. This is strikingly illustrated by the following summary in connection with the average number of hours presented in certain departments in fulfillment of graduation requirements by the members of the four classes of 1893, 1909, 1924, and 1940. It was found that English has increased in popularity during each period. The relative rank of the sciences has remained largely unchanged. The social sciences have moved from comparative obscurity to first importance, with history as the popular choice. The modern languages have remained fairly constant in choice, with German usually given preference over French or Spanish. The classical languages dropped from first choice of the seniors of the early years to last choice by the present seniors – the most marked of any trend. Mathematics, losing some popularity, is still above the median.2 The study of the Bible has remained a constant requirement for graduation, in harmony with the policy of the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education. The fine arts, home economics, music, speech, education, physical education, and business administration represent either new subjects that have been added to the program of studies, or an expansion or a development of older subjects or departments. Thus, during the fifty-eight year period the program of studies indicates a general responsiveness to change within the pattern of American liberal arts colleges.
Hastings College has now completed fifty-eight years of educational history. This history has been one of struggle and of hope. For more than a decade it has had an average annual enrollment of more than eight hundred students, a budget of $200,000, an endowment of $800,000 and an investment in plant, campus, and equipment of $500,000. Fifteen thousand students, 168 members of the Board of Trustees, 316 members of the Faculty, and thousands of friends and contributors have shared in making this history. Its purposes, as expressed through its leadership, have been in harmony with the educational philosophy of Presbyterianism. Its future, if consistent with its past, lies in striving to realize this program. This is the task, and this the opportunity, of Presbyterian education in Nebraska for tomorrow.
The Presbyterian Church has entered upon its second century of effort in Nebraska. The first century was characterized by missionary work among the Indians, the organization of churches, and the establishment of educational institutions. All of this has helped to advance the cause of religion and education and to supply the elements of strength that should make for future growth and progress. The record of Presbyterian achievement in higher education in Nebraska is modest, but substantial. Building upon this foundation, the future holds much promise.
1James H. H. Hewitt, a transfer student form Peru College.
2 The median for 1940 was five.