A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and in Other Cities

Chapter 9: Summary of Results. Schools in Other Cities.

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Special Investigator for the Sub-committee

Commercial education in Chicago exists obviously on account of the necessity for training young people for business positions. This necessity is recognized by business men who expect new employees to be able to take up work in their offices without a great deal of preliminary instruction; it is realized most acutely by parents who wish their children to become wage-earners in order to help out the family budget; and it is realized by the young people themselves[1] because they expect a commercial education to fit them to succeed in business life.

That the need of business training is great is shown by the fact that 31.5 per cent of the total number of students enrolled in the high schools of Chicago elect a commercial course,[2] that 19,000 (estimated) pupils are enrolled in the forty or more commercial schools,[3] and that the Y. M. C. A. and parochial day and evening schools are providing for thousands more. The demand for commercial education has thus far been met by the high schools, by the private business colleges, by the Y. M. C. A. and by correspondence schools, by parochial business schools, by schools organized by social settlements or by employers, and finally by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in their Schools of Commerce.

Whether the training received in these schools fully meets the business needs of Chicago is doubtful, especially in view of the statement of many business men[4] and teachers[5] of Chicago. The

(239) general opinion of employers is that people come to them lacking the theoretical education and practical training which ought to fit them to take up routine office work immediately and to qualify them to compete for the so-called directive positions in business. The young people lack in the first place a general education broad enough to enable them to see all sides of a new proposition; and in the second place, they lack the special training which should provide them with an equipment which they can apply to new propositions.

In spite of this fact there is no insistent demand on the part of employers for a change in our present system of commercial education. They take what comes to them and do the best they can with it. Some business houses expect to train their employees. One concern in the city has been taking some pride in the fact that it takes in untrained office people, makes first-class clerks of them, and sends them to other businesses.

The employers do admit, however, that they do not get the kind of help they want. They say rather unanimously that the young people come to them deficient in the common branches, that they would rather have older people and people with a general high school education, at least, and that the present commercial courses in the high schools are very weak.

At the present time the employers do not rely upon the high schools or commercial colleges for their help. If they want a stenographer or a bookkeeper they do not ask the high school or the business college to provide one. This is, undoubtedly, true for all the larger business houses; the smaller business men were not investigated in this inquire. The general consensus of opinion among business men is that business colleges are little better than the public schools in the character of commercial work. The deficiencies are the same in both types of school.

It is expected in this report to inquire only into the work of the public high schools, the private business colleges, and the I'. U. C. A., the other schools offering commercial courses being of a nature not capable of comparison with these other three types of schools.

Commercial courses in public high schools

In sixteen (16) of the high schools of Chicago a regular commercial course practically uniform throughout the city is offered. Commercial studies are offered in addition to the academic work and are elective. Among the subjects studied in the course are

(240) bookkeeping, stenography and typewriting, commercial law and commercial geography and some economics, and other associated subjects such as English composition, spelling, modern languages, arithmetic, etc., which are not given with a view to business practice but rather to meet college entrance requirements.

There is no separate commercial department with a departmental head and no separate corps of teachers. Those teaching commercial branches complain that the work receives little encouragement from the public-school officers, that it is lacking in equipment, in time (especially for practice work) and in an atmosphere of practical business.[6] In addition, those who elect the commercial work are handicapped by the excessive amount of academic work required because courses are planned to meet college entrance requirements.

In spite of this 31.5 per cent of the students elect this work, and thousands are leaving the high schools and going to business colleges. It is said that over 75 per cent of the high-school students drop out at some time during the four-year course.[7] A large number of these drop out because of the necessity for going to work; a number of others because of the attraction of good wages, even though under no immediate necessity of working. Some are restless and actual business work is more attractive than attendance at schools ; and some can not keep up because of intellectual weakness, which makes further study in high school uninviting to them. A large number leave high school to finish their course in business colleges. the chief influence in such cases being the belief that business colleges offer more practical work and that greater possibilities of earning a living come after business-college training.

The chief criticism against the high schools is that the work is not practical, is not conducted by teachers trained especially for business work, nor in an atmosphere which even begins to approach that of actual business. Under such conditions, it can not be expected that the work will interest the student in the first place, or, having interested him. that it will prove of value to him in the end.

Private commercial schools

The forty or more commercial colleges, on the other hand, offer apparently exactly what the students desire, a commercial education only. The average commercial college presents an air of business;

(241) the equipment is quite adequate and the plan of work, especially on the technical side, seems at first desirable. The students are offered a course in business theory and practice which seems suited to fit them for the ends desired.

Criticisms may, however, be made upon the work of the private business college. Only a few of them are really efficient, and in every case the course is too short. The whole attempt is to drive the student through in as short a time as possible, this being, of course, an attractive feature in the case of the student who must be a wage-earner immediately after he graduates; from his point of view the sooner he graduates the better. The business colleges will take students ordinarily without regard to age, though several maintain they take no one under fifteen years. They pay little attention to previous training and do not take into account the natural adaptability or ability on the part of the student, i. e., no attempt is made to inquire whether the prospective student is fitted to become a business man either in a directive or directed position. All is grist that comes to the business college mill.

A further criticism is that business colleges feel that they are under the necessity of keeping their attendance, to pay dividends on their capital, and therefore conduct a vigorous campaign of solicitation which extends even to the pupils in the grammar schools. It is estimated that 25 per cent to 35 per cent of their gross receipts are paid out to solicitors.[8] It is, perhaps, pertinent to inquire if this money could not be more profitably expended by the business colleges themselves in equipment or teaching staff.

They also need public supervision. They are not open to inspection by the public officers and are not regulated by the school board or other school authorities.

The typical commercial course in commercial colleges includes bookkeeping, commercial arithmetic, commercial law, penmanship, business correspondence, shorthand and typewriting, and what is called English, including reading, writing, spelling, grammar and, in some cases, history, geography, arithmetic, etc. The average time for such a course is about eight months, and the average tuition is about $11 per month.

The commercial colleges themselves insist that their methods are the correct ones, that their course is arranged to give the maximum of practical work in the minimum of time, that the course is con-

(242) -ducted by teachers especially trained for business work who make it a practice to keep in touch with the latest business methods, and that, therefore, their courses are much more efficient than can be given in the public high schools at present. It is true, however, that the greater number of students turned out by the commercial colleges, as well as by the high schools, are inefficient, except possibly in a mechanical way;[9] and they still require detailed instruction in that which they are supposed to have learned in school. The business training of the public schools and of the commercial colleges does not fit their graduates to take up business work with the expectation of working themselves into positions of responsibility.

Commercial courses in the Y. M. C. A.

The continuation work in the day and evening schools of the Y. M. C. A. has been to some extent more successful than work in the high schools and commercial colleges largely because of the nature of the students. The Y. M. C. A. classes are attended by boys who are anxious to advance, boys who realize their needs in certain lines, some of whom are already employed, some, indeed, being sent by employers who pay their tuition. In addition to this, the teachers are people actually engaged in the work they are teaching. The instructors in bookkeeping, for example, in these schools, are men actually working during the day in some office, or are men taken from some large concern and put in charge of the work in the Y. M. C. A.

In general, the courses offered are about the same as those in the commercial colleges, i.e., bookkeeping, commercial law, business practice, stenography and typewriting, etc. In addition, the Y . AI. C. A. offers special courses in advertising, real estate salesmanship, finance and investments, conducted by business men experienced in these lines of work. The time required to complete a course in bookkeeping or in stenography and typewriting is six to nine months. The Y. M. C. A. takes nobody under fifteen years of age and the average age of students is twenty-two years. The average enrolment in the evening schools is about 250 for the year.

The Y. M. C. A. also makes a special effort to cooperate with business houses. It is true, of course, that the commercial colleges maintain employment bureaus and through them manage to fulfil

(243) their promises to graduates to provide them with positions, but they do not make the effort made by the Y. M. C. A. in putting its graduates into the best positions, nor do they try as the Y. M. C. A. does to use " part time " or " continuation " work.

Summary of conditions

The general criticism, then, on the whole situation in commercial education in Chicago is that the work is not designed to meet the special needs of Chicago. The business of Chicago is largely that of selling and transporting merchandise. The majority of the employees are perhaps in jobbing houses and railroad offices. In addition to these, there are large numbers of employees in manufacturing industries, department stores, and mail-order houses. These businesses need men who are capable of taking responsibility very early in their business careers. Some of the large jobbing houses in Chicago are sending men to the various colleges in the country to interview graduates for the sole purpose of getting men who are able to work rapidly into responsible positions.

The business courses in the schools of Chicago, public and private, are not designed to produce such men. Business colleges are not meeting the demand, for they pay no attention to such matters as the previous general training of their students or their natural ability. As one employer says, " a great many good mechanics are spoiled in making very poor clerks." Pupils should be trained for that line of work for which they are suited.

The work of the public schools is distinctly not work of the business type. It is so inadequate that for this reason students leave the schools, even when not obliged to from necessity to work, and even when not prevailed upon to leave by commercial colleges. Those taking the public-school course or those graduating from business colleges are likely to become mere machines.

It is, perhaps, interesting to inquire to what extent business in Chicago adjusts itself to meet this situation. Some business men who say they get the kind of help they want have their business so systematized that one clerk does one kind of work the whole day through. Is it not, perhaps, true that this division of labor has come about as much from lack of well-educated office employees as from advanced business organization?

The students in the commercial colleges pay about a million and a half dollars in tuition. Why could not this million and a half dol-

(244) -lars of the money of citizens of Chicago be invested in commercial high schools or courses offered in the present high schools which would be designed to meet the needs of Chicago's business?


It has been apparent for some time that some other plan of educating the young people for business should be adopted and followed out vigorously.

Two schemes have been suggested. One is the establishment of separate departments of commercial education in the present schools with separate directors of commercial work and a separate corps of teachers. The work is to be the same in all the high schools coordinated under efficient leadership and supervision over the whole city. The purpose is to "give business courses based on business methods by instructors who know business methods." While it is thought that the four years' course of equal grade with the regular academic instruction is the very best scheme for giving the most thorough commercial work, it has also been suggested that a course of two years' duration should be offered which would meet the demands of those obliged to leave school early to go to work.

The second plan is the establishment of a separate high school, or, perhaps, one central high school and three branch schools. one each for the north, south and west sides. Such a high school would be technical in character after the manner of Crane and Lane Technical High Schools, and would have no direct connection with other high schools. It would be under the control of a separate director of commercial work and would, therefore, have not only the advantage of giving business atmosphere, but that of inspiring both teachers and students with a business spirit and patriotism for their school which would give added force and impetus to their work.

Whichever one of these plans it is thought best to adopt, the cooperation of the business man of the city is one of the most necessary factors. An advisory committee of business men could render service of great value to such a school by giving counsel as to the course of study and in visiting and inspecting the schools and giving criticism of the work being done. Business men and business houses could take students for part-time work during the school year, or full time during the summer vacations.

This plan has been tried in some manual training schools and seems very successful. Lewis Institute cooperates with a number

(245) of factories in the city in a scheme whereby every student works during the school year, part of the time in the school and part of the time in the factory. Interviews with the instructors of the school, and with the business men and with some of the boys in the classes show the arrangement to be very successful.

It would be more difficult in some cases to apply the part-time scheme to office-work, salesmanship, etc., but there are very few business houses in Chicago which could not employ the students during the summer. It is the time of vacations for regular employees and the business houses actually need additional help during these months. Another form of cooperation could be found in affording opportunities for teachers and classes to visit the various offices, to make a thorough inspection and study the work at first hand.

The definite aim of such commercial work would be to make it fit the ends of Chicago business and a definite effort should be made to provide courses capable of fitting men to work rapidly into directive positions.

The two schemes of commercial education suggested above are the types in use in the high schools in other large cities in the United States. The separate high school of commerce is used in Boston and Cleveland. The commercial department for all high schools in the city is used in St. Louis, and will be adopted in Cincinnati in the coming year.

The Boston High School of Commerce

The Boston school has been established since 1908. It was organized in the first place in 190; by a committee of twenty-five business men whose recommendation was immediately accepted by the school board. This was the first cooperation for commercial education between business men and school authorities in the United States.

The course of instruction is twofold in character. In the first place, the general high-school subjects are taught to provide the student with general knowledge and to prepare him for college, if he so desires; and in the second place these general subjects are taught with an eye to their value in commercial and business work while a special commercial training of the most thorough character is provided.

Separate departments are maintained with separate heads who take the responsibility for their departments and share in the executive work of the school. These departments are first, that of Busi-

(246) -ness Technic, where classes in Bookkeeping, Phonography (stenography) and Typewriting are taught; second, a department of Economics and History covering commercial geography, business organization, commercial law, local industries, economic history and economics, civics and general political history; third, an English Department where general English literature and general English composition are taught together with special business composition including work in advertisement writing; fourth, a Department of Mathematics, where in addition to the high-school subjects of algebra, geometry and trigonometry drills in commercial arithmetic are required; fifth, the modern Language Department, giving instruction in French, German and Spanish. The purpose is to enable a student to read, write and speak easily and correctly at least t-o of these languages. The reading includes newspapers, market reports, business circulars and advertisements. In composition commercial correspondence is a leading feature. Finally the Science Department includes physical geography, physics, elementary chemistry and what is called vocational chemistry, a study of the application of chemistry to the special requirements of the industries of Boston.

The course is ordinarily completed in four years and somewhere during the course the boys are expected to put in part time in actual business work. For this purpose, a very complete cooperation with the business houses of Boston has been brought about; in the summer of 1909, 50 per cent of the second-year class, 77 per cent of the third-year class, and 70 per cent of the fourth-year class were provided with summer work by the business houses. Boys go into the lines which they wish to follow and to which they are recommended by the instructors. When they return to school in the fall, the statements of their summer employers are placed at the disposal of the instructors. In this way, complete record of each boy's work is kept and a close estimate of his capability is available at all times. This system of cooperation has proved very satisfactory; it provides the boys with experience and an opportunity for permanent employment and provides the business houses with the opportunity of securing the service of capable and ambitious young men.

In addition to the four-year course, a fifth year of special work is given in which a more advanced line of commercial instruction is taken up.

A valuable addition to the course has been made in the form of

(247) traveling scholarships provided by a number of Boston business men to send two boys yearly to South America, Central America, or the West Indies, to investigate and report upon the industries of these countries. A competitive examination open to members of the graduating class is the basis of selection. The results of the trip made in 1908 fully justify the expectations of the founders of the scholarships, and the business men's committee consider it an important part of the work.

The registration in the Boston High School of Commerce has increased each year, and the nature of the work is such that the number of students returning each year is a very large percentage of the total enrolment. The work has been so successful and so satisfactory that a larger number of pupils is attracted than can be taken care of.

In addition, the Chamber of Commerce has asked that other courses for employees, especially in salesmanship, be established in the school. The employers give each employee three hours per day for twelve weeks to follow these courses.

The commercial work still continues in the other city high schools. but it should be noticed that the competition of the high school of commerce has served to stimulate the business courses of the high schools and has made them more effective.

Mr. F. V. Thompson, the head master of the Boston High School of Commerce, is convinced that this work could not be carried on by a departmental system in the regular high schools.

The Cleveland High School of Commerce

The Cleveland High School of Commerce is conducted on the same plan as that of the Boston High School of Commerce and was organized in practically the same way. The school was opened in the fall of 1909, in response to an active demand by the business men of the city of Cleveland.

An advisory committee of thirty business men not only helped in the preparation of the courses of study, but served as a committee of visitation and inspection. The course is designed to cover four years (i. e., twelve terms of three months each) and the work is divided between a number of departments.

In the English department, reading includes study of newspapers and magazine articles on commercial subjects and especially the use of trade journals. In composition the aim is efficiency for commer-

(248) -cial ends. In modern languages special attention is directed to speaking and correspondence and the attainment of a technical vocabulary. In mathematics considerable emphasis is laid on arithmetic, of course, and on practical applications of algebra and geometry. In the last term practical problems in the cost of rent, of transportation, or production and distribution, storage, shipping and advertising, etc-. are given. The work in bookkeeping is very complete, including the theory and technic of bookkeeping in approved modern systems and giving special attention to banking, corporation and railroad accounting and auditing. The other departments are those of shorthand and typewriting, penmanship, commercial geography, history of commerce and American history, civics and municipal government, political economy, commercial la-, physiology and hygiene, botany, chemistry and physics with especial attention to their application to commercial and manufacturing interests.

Like the Boston school, the Cleveland school maintains a commercial museum, showing the different raw materials and processes of manufacture; lectures by specialists actively engaged in the work of manufacturing and trade are given, and excursions are conducted through large manufacturing and business plants. It is expected that by cooperation with the business men of the city, arrangements for periods of actual business practice will be provided for the students who complete the courses.

In both Cleveland and Boston the teachers who are usually graduates of colleges. universities and normal schools, as well as of business colleges, have had large experience in teaching. and nearly all have had business experience, in many cases extending over a number of years. In addition several are authors of teat-books on commercial subjects.

It is too early yet to report upon the results of the first year of the Cleveland school, but it confidently can be predicted that the Cleveland experience will duplicate that of Boston in its commercial high school.

Commercial courses in St. Louis high schools

St. Louis presents the most striking example of the maintenance of commercial departments in the regular high schools. Separate commercial work has been maintained since the fall of 1909. The

(249) commercial courses are optional. Students in the two-year vocational courses may elect vocational subjects in addition to those scheduled in the first and second years of the four-year commercial course.

The vocational course, as it is called, continues for two years and at the end of that time those who complete the course are given a certificate. In 1909-10 one-third elected commercial work of one kind or another and about one-fourth elected regular vocational courses. This plan meets the demands of many students for a short business course which enables them to go early into practical work. Those who wish, however, can continue for the full four years in advanced work in subjects previously studied together with work in more advanced subjects.

The curriculum includes, of course, penmanship, commercial arithmetic, strong courses in bookkeeping, courses in commercial law and geography, and courses in stenography and typewriting in which emphasis is laid upon the necessity of time for practice.

There is no separate commercial department in the schools of St. Louis. There is no separate department head and no separate corps of commercial teachers, feeling the responsibility for the success of their departments. Coordination and correlation of work of the different schools is obtained through a series of committees composed of teachers from the different high schools. Each subject is in charge of the committee made up of one teacher of that subject from each high school. In charge of all of these committees is a general committee.

Since the St. Louis plan has been in use also only one year, no statement can be made as to the results. St. Louis has consciously rejected the separate commercial high-school plan and defends its action on the grounds that those who are trained in a general high school are more adaptable, and that such training avoids the " false distinctions of social and intellectual value that results from segregating pupils in separate school buildings according to the different lines of work that interest and occupy them."

They maintain that specialized training, while it makes the best piece workers, produces this specialized ability at the expense of the general ability. Moreover, it is said that the public-school system should put before the youths as nearly as possible " the many things that engage the interests and activities of men in different -,walks of life," and that specialized high schools give no chance for observation

(250) or comparison in malting a choice of the work to be followed in after life. The student beginning in commercial high schools and then changing his mind, finds it difficult to transfer to another high school and can not do it at all without considerable loss of credit. Transfer in a general high school from one course to another is made with a minimum amount of loss. The further claim is made that the general high school is more economical in that it is nearer to the individual's home. With a central high school of commerce all those taking commercial courses must come to one place from all parts of the city; with the other plan the student can go to the one nearest his residence.

Commercial courses in Cincinnati high schools

Cincinnati offers in 1910-11 for the first time a separate commercial course. This work was undertaken after consultation with successful business men of Cincinnati and with their hearty cooperation. The Cincinnati plan follows in general the St. Louis type except that there is a separate director of commercial work in each high school who is almost wholly independent of the regular principal. The director outlines the course of study, supervises the instruction, and teachers and students report to him. Through him the coordination of all departments is maintained and it is expected that a general director of commercial work will serve the same office for all high schools. The subjects are much the same as those in the other high schools. Cincinnati, however, like St. Louis, provides considerable practice time in stenography, typewriting and bookkeeping.

Of these four schools, the Boston school is obviously the best organized, farthest advanced, and probably the most successful. It is designed to meet the special needs of Boston, and while it is in every sense a technical school, it still attempts to provide for those who wish to continue their work in colleges. In a large commercial city like Chicago there are good reasons for establishing a separate high school of commerce and offering commercial courses also in the general high schools. The experience of Boston with this plan shows that the courses in the general high schools are much improved by the influence of the work done by the separate school, which serves as an experiment station to work out a content and method for commercial courses. The comments of business men of Chicago, given in Chapter XI, reveal a strong demand from this source for the separate school.


  1. See Chapter XIII.
  2. See Chapter XII.
  3. See Chapter X.
  4. See Chapter XI.
  5. See Chapter XII.
  6. See Chapter XII.
  7. See Chapter XIII.
  8. See Chapter X.
  9. See Chapter XI.

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