A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and in Other Cities

Chapter 10: Solicitation by Private Commercial Schools in Chicago

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Solicitation of pupils and parents by agents of private commercial and business schools is widespread in Chicago. It is the opinion of the writer that in this practice and its results can be found to some e1-tent the answers to three questions which have been frequently asked:

Why do so few pupils enter the high schools of the city?
Why does such a large percentage of high-school pupils drop out early in the course?
Why are the commercial schools so severely criticized by the business men of the city, in whose offices the students from these schools find employment?

The following evidence bears out the statement made above and shows that the solicitor for the business, college is a serious evil in the community.

Extent of this evil

There are in Chicago forty-two or more private commercial schools or so-called " business colleges," purporting to train boys and girls o: the city who wish to prepare themselves for wage-earning in clerical and office positions.

It has not been possible to obtain an authoritative statement of the attendance upon these schools. But few of the Chicago business colleges responded to the request of the United States Commissioner of Education, that they send school reports into his office. Direct requests made by the writer have received replies in only a few instances. It has been necessary, therefore, to estimate this attendance, making use of such figures as have been given and reported, and o: the judgment of business college men and others who are familiar with these schools. This estimate is an attendance of at least 19.000 pupils for the last year. In the opinion of no one

(252) who has been consulted has this number seemed too large. There is reason to believe that it is an underestimate rather than an overestimate.

What the solicitors are doing

Most of the solicitors for these schools are working on a commission basis and tend, therefore, to be more interested in securing the students than they are in telling the truth; in the amount of business they secure than in the maturity or fitness of the pupils they solicit. In very many cases the pupils, even from the fifth grade and up, are induced to leave the public schools for the purpose of taking a course in some business college. Pupils are solicited who have no adaptability for commercial training.

Many students are secured by means of what must be regarded as misrepresentation on the part of the solicitor. They promise the prospective student a job at the end of his short term of study. They draw attention to the fact that certain students have completed courses of study in a short period of time and are now holding good positions. Some of them who enroll have sufficient native ability or have received such previous training that they are enabled to complete the work in the promised time and hold a job when secured. The solicitor uses these examples as a bait to catch others who have not these qualifications. No guarantee is given that the student will be able to hold a position, and many take places only to lose them because they are incompetent.

When the standard of those who seek clerical and office work is as low as that to which our business men testify, it is not difficult to promise some sort of a place to the graduate of a six months' course. This superficial training, especially when it has been added to an incomplete elementary schooling, does not lead to later success, but condemns the boy or girl to the low wages and drudgery which are the necessary lot of the inefficient.

Thus the guarantee of a position after a short term of study in a business college becomes a source of positive injury to the children whom it attracts, and is at the same time ruining excellent material. For the same children might, after the completion of the elementary period with adequate business training, become efficient clerks and stenographers, able to gain a higher wage and take higher positions.

That such children are being solicited and enticed from the public schools in all parts of our city is a fact that is affirmed by every

(253) public-school principal whose opinion was sought in the investigation of this problem.

Statements made by high-school teachers

A high-school teacher states:

As the most evident reason why pupils from the grammar schools go to the private business schools rather than to the public high school, may be given to the work done among grammar-school pupils of the upper grades and their parents by the solicitors of the business schools. Even without other reasons, this would be a strong force in turning the tide. In our city these business schools obtain complete lists of pupils in each of the upper grades, as well as of pupils in the high schools (one can not say how), and their solicitors canvass these families thoroughly and repeatedly, setting forth the advantages of a course in a business school, and the loss of time in attending high school. This work would not be as effective as it is were they not able to convince parents and pupils that the business college offers a short cut to wage-earning. What I have said was exemplified again to-day in the dropping out of one of my best pupils, through the persuasion of the business-school solicitor, that many of the high-school studies were time thrown away, and clinching the argument by inducing the parent to make a payment down toward the tuition, so that there should be no chance for reconsideration.

A high-school teacher of stenography says:

The business colleges are indefatigable in their efforts to secure the pupils as low down as the fourth grade; the names of pupils are obtained, the solicitor visits their homes and makes plain to the parents that it will cost no more to send a pupil to the paid business college a shorter time, than to support him in high school for a longer time, with the added benefit that he will at the end of a course in a business college be capable of holding a position, and, moreover, be placed in a position of self-support. Almost every- pupil from a business college is " taken care of " in that way, no matter from what course he graduates, and irrespective of the degree of efficiency which he has attained.

Testimony from pupils in the first year of high school

No one is better able to give testimony concerning the extent and success of this solicitation than the boys and girls who have been approached by these solicitors with a view of inducing them to leave the public schools. In ten high schools located in various sections of the city, 862 pupils in the first year of the high school were asked to write a theme on " Why do not more pupils enter the high schools of our city?" The number of reasons in these themes varies from

(254) two or three to a dozen. But it is an interesting fact that 565 of these pupils give. as a leading reason, the work of the business college agents. Quotations from a few of the themes are given below:

Another reason is because some parents think that a business college offers a child a better business education in a shorter while than high school. Perhaps parents wouldn't be so much against high school if it were not for the agents that come around and persuade many parents to let their children go to business college, because the agent claims that they thoroughly educate them and set them to work.

The business colleges of our city are trying to draw all the pupils to their schools by distributing advertisements all over the city, describing their methods of teaching and flattering their school too much.

I think the reason that more pupils do not enter high schools is that the business-college agents urge most of the grammar-school graduates to go to business college. There were about ten agents who came to my house last summer who claimed that it was foolish to spend four years of your valuable time in high school when you could learn just as much in one year in their college.

The business colleges send out agents who promise everything. If they (the children) will just go to college for six or eight months, they promise to secure them a good job. The children, being very anxious to earn money, beg and fuss until their parents finally consent to let them enter business college instead of the high school.

School pupils who have a chance to choose between high school and college are generally encouraged to attend college by men who entice them before they graduate from grammar school, so they are turned from high school. There is no one going from house to house telling of things they have in high school, and people don't bother to find out. I have had this same experience, only that my father, being a well-educated man and holding a good position, knew different, and I was compelled to go to high school.

I think one of the greatest enemies of the high schools are the agents that go around for business colleges. These men persuade the mothers of pupils to send their children to business college. They even go so far as to say that high schools are a waste of time and money. The mothers are made to have this same thought, and sign a contract before consulting any one else. This forces the pupils to go to business colleges.

In the early part of June and the latter of January, when the list of graduates from the grammar schools is known, solicitors from business colleges find out the names of the pupils and come to their house or mail a letter to coax the parents to allow their children to enter the business colleges.

Other parents are influenced by the business-college agents, who tell them how many pupils that stay at a business college a few months learn as much as a high-school graduate, and at the end of a certain time this business college will get him a good position. The parents, believing what the agents say, send their children to a business college.


Testimony from pupils in the fourth year of high school

Of 491 papers written by these pupils on the subject " Why do pupils drop out of high schools," 341 give as leading reasons the alluring advertisements of the business colleges promising a position, and the work of the solicitors of these schools.

Business colleges of to-day take away a number of the pupils of the high school. The college convinces the parents that one who has gone through their school is able to procure a larger salary than one who has gone through the high schools.

The business colleges of the city advertise widely, offering to give a person an excellent business education within three or six months, and to furnish him with a position at the end of that time. Many pupils, convinced by the agents that the education received at these colleges is as good as a full high-school course, leave the schools to avail themselves of the opportunity to be earning their own living within such a short time.

The business college is about the first to attract the pupils' attention. Sometimes before they have thought of leaving high school this institution has obtained them. This is due to the agents for these schools. Just the other day one of these agents called at our house and tried to persuade me to drop high-school work and go to the business college. In his eager desire to win pupils for his school he went so far as to run down high schools and colleges. If a person were easily persuaded they would be won. The business college usually takes the children of the more unlettered class of people away from high school.

The business colleges send inviting notices to as many addresses as they can get, telling the pupils of the wonderful advantages there are in taking a business course at once. Instead of spending four years at high school they will only have to take a few months' course in the college. This time is always made as short as possible in the letters, but one can never tell how long the course will be in reality.

When a boy or girl first graduates from grammar school, and for months before, agents of the various business colleges are constantly dinning into his ears the advantages of a business education. All through the high-school course the stream of postals and advertisements continues. Allured by the promises of bright prospects and a position guaranteed, the pupils drop out and go to business college, usually to regret it later.

What the proprietors say

We add the opinions of the proprietors of three business colleges in Chicago who either do not solicit, or condemn the practice, but still make use of it because they feel compelled to by the competition of the schools who do solicit.

One proprietor says:

Business-college training in Chicago is in large measure a failure, because of soliciting children, and employing teachers who lack training. Poor


foundation, poor teachers and text-books which produce the largest cash dividend are not conducive to efficient office help. I will welcome the day when every young man and woman who needs and wants commercial training can get it without having to pay the fee charged by special schools.

Another reputable proprietor says:

The reasons why the business colleges of our city are putting out such an immature product and foisting it upon our business men are these: Many the proprietors care more for the dollars received as tuition than the kind of training they are giving; because of solicitation, we are getting our pupils too young and immature; the high cost of solicitation renders it impossible to provide high-class instructors.

Still another says:

We will get just as much business if we let the students alone until they are two or three years older. We would have more students if we would abolish soliciting and apply that large drain to the building up of our schools. making our rooms more attractive, securing more efficient instruction. These are the things that make am- school and give it a reputable standing. I would abolish soliciting to-morrow if I could.

The cost of solicitation

We have direct testimony from four business college proprietors of the city that the various commercial schools expend from 25 to 33 1/3 per cent of their gross receipts in the solicitation of their students. This draft on the income of these schools affects the duality of the teaching force and the salaries which are paid to the teachers. These facts together with the work of solicitation itself in securing immature and unfitted pupils account to a great extent for the low grade of efficiency of the average pupil who completes the courses of study, as shown by the testimony of business men of Chicago.[1]

Cost of tuition

It has been estimated on the basis of 19,000 pupils and the average cost of tuition in the commercial schools, that the citizens of Chicago pay one million four hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars ($1,425,000) every year in tuition to private business colleges, concerning the character of which they know little or nothing. This vast sum of money is given to schools which are under the jurisdiction of no educational authority. There are no restrictions concerning the capabilities of the teachers, the character of instruction,

(257) or schoolroom sanitation. The unwholesome conditions surrounding the pupils in some of these schools warrant their inspection by the City Board of Health. They should be compelled to install proper systems of ventilation. to exercise greater care in sanitation, and to limit the number of pupils confined to each room, that the amount of breathing space may be provided which is required for the health and physical welfare of their pupils.


  1. See Chapter XI.

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