History of Learning Assistance Programs in the Mid to Late 1800s

As a historian, I have been interested in the history of learning assistance and developmental education.  Listening to the rhetoric of today as some argue for the elimination of developmental-level courses, a listener might think that such courses are a recent creation.  A careful review of the historical record reveals they have been embedded as part of American higher education since the start.  Below is the first of three parts of an examination of the 1800s.  These are excerpts from my 2010 book published by Jossey-Bass, "Access at the crossroads:  Learning assistance in higher education."

Recruitment of Academically Underprepared Students

After the U.S. Civil War, students who were considered academically under-prepared were aggressively recruited. Economic and social changes throughout the United States fueled by the Civil War significantly influenced expansion of learning assistance at more colleges. Many male students did not seek admission or left college to join their respective armies. Many colleges in the North and South replaced them and their tuition payments through expanded academic preparatory departments that supported underage students who were too young to enlist. Examples from the North include Valparaiso University in Indiana, which replaced college students through a rapid expansion of the academic preparatory department. Although the liberal arts college and theology school at Bucknell University closed temporarily in 1865, the academic preparatory school at the same college significantly increased its enrollment. Offsetting enroll­ment decreases saved many institutions from closing. Southern colleges followed the same pattern of Northern institutions through extended academic prepara­tory departments and acceptance of applicants formerly denied admission. In 1861 the University of Alabama created an academic preparatory department for boys twelve years and older. In 1863 the University of Georgia created Uni­versity High School and suspended rules prohibiting admission of boys younger than fourteen to the university. The Faculty Senate of South Carolina College in 1862 voted to admit young students to replace revenue lost by former stu­dents who had left the institution to join the Confederate Army (Rudy, 1996).