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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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"Relative Importance of Two Announcements," cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1930.

"Relative Importance of Two Announcements," cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1930. The adoption of the New Plan in the 1930s helped the University counter some of the bad publicity brought by its faltering football program. ©Copyrighted 1930, Chicago Tribune Company, all rights reserved, used with permission.

 

Students completing their comprehensive exams in the Field House, 1945.

Students completing their comprehensive exams in the Field House, 1945. Photograph by the Chicago Sun.

The Higher Learning

An Era of Reforms
The cumulative effect of these changes on students of the "Hutchins College," or to be more accurate, the succession of "Hutchins Colleges," was impressive. The curricular reforms brought students into direct contact with basic texts in literature, the social sciences, and natural sciences and gave them an opportunity to read these works closely and critically. The students offered the strongest testimony to the success of the program, for in retrospect it was their generation that seemed most enthusiastic about the college experience.

The College Reshaped
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the period of innovation in the College curriculum was drawing to a close. Many of the students who entered after four years of high school, instead of remaining just two years at the collegiate level, took three years or more to pass all the "comps" and receive a bachelor's degree. This defeated the original purpose of an accelerated curriculum. It also left the students at a disadvantage when applying for graduate school admission, since many institutions - including the University's own graduate divisions - would not accept two years of collegiate work as equivalent to a full undergraduate program that included specialization in a particular discipline. These and other difficulties, including a high rate of attrition, brought a corresponding drop in enrollment, from about 3,400 College students in 1945-46 to less than 1,200 in 1953-54.

In 1954, with the encouragement of Chancellor Lawrence A. Kimpton, the University Senate reorganized the College to eliminate the Hutchins AB degree and relocate the bachelor's degree to its conventional position at the end of four years of collegiate studies. In 1958, the University adopted a College plan incorporating two years of general education courses for all students to be followed by two years of specialized work.

 


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