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CREDIT FOR SHOP EXPERIENCE IN ENTRANCE
BY WILLIAM T. MAGRUDER,
Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
Within the past year, a circular, descriptive of the mechanical engineering course of one of our Eastern universities, has unintentionally stirred up a discussion in the technical press on the "Admission Requirements in Engineering Schools.” The first editorial on the circular was followed by no less than twelve letters from correspondents, requiring two editorials and seven editorial answers. The editorial in question sought to call attention to the fact that some of the best material for mechanical engineers was to be found among the artisans of the shops, who, having had but a common school education, were unable to pass the entrance examinations of our engineering colleges and acquire a higher technical education; that the schools should accept the shop experience of the young artisan as an equivalent for the mathematics, or other subject required for admission, in which the young man was deficient, giving him credit for the same in the prescribed course; and that they should also devise means by which, while making up his deficiencies, he could pursue the regular course and graduate with the class. The real intention of the editorial does not seem to have been perceived for two months; and as it is a criticism of the mechanical engineering courses of all our colleges, the writer suggested it as a fit subject for discussion at this meeting of the society.
Four plans were suggested. First, that all “ applicants be required to have served an apprenticeship in a machine shop.” Second, that “shop experience and a good grammar school education should be the only requirements for admission to such a school.” Third, "that the arbitrary division of classes and the ironclad courses of the past be entirely abolished, and an elective system of studies be substituted, and the student left free to choose such a line of work as would best enable him to develop his talents, and prepare himself for the future he had in view." Fourth, “that previous shop experience should offset some of the more advanced of the present requirements, the time which the present class of students devote to shopwork being given by the new class to the preparatory studies in which they would be deficient.”
In order to discuss this subject profitably and intelligently, there must be some common ground from which to start, and as the writer cannot agree with several of the correspondents above referred to, he will establish his own position by stating that, in his opinion, the object of the engineering courses in our technical schools is, first and foremost, to educate young men in the principles of the profession of engineering, rather than to train them in the details of some engineering process, to make engineers and not artisans; second, that the technical college of to-day is in no sense a trade school, the relation of the one to the other being similar to that of the law school to the business college; and third, that it is an erroneous idea, although it seems to be current, that the State University owes every man an education in some of its courses, no matter how inadequately supplied he may be with brains and means, or how poorly prepared to take such a course. Furthermore, the opinion seems prevalent that the reason for the existence of engineering college shops is to take the place of the apprenticeship system; and that the young man who has served his three years at one trade has more than the equivalent of the amount of knowledge possessed by the young man who has been educated in the shop-school in the principles and technology of almost a dozen trades, who has been trained in the school-shop in the use of the tools of those trades so as to learn something of the speed, capacities and capabilities of those tools, and to apply the principles learned in the school to the practice in the shop, and who has also gained a practical knowledge of how different materials can be used and worked. With this idea the writer cannot agree.
In order to secure definite information as to what is the current practice of the mechanical engineering colleges of the country in regard to giving credit for shop experience, the writer addressed a circular letter to the head of the department in some eighteen of our largest echnical colleges, and received seventeen replies, for which he desires to publicly express his gratitude. From these replies it appears: First, that, instead of upward of sixty to seventy per cent. of all mechanical engineering students having had shop experience on entering college, as was the opinion of one of the writers, the average is less that five per cent. At Cornell and at the Massachusetts, Stevens, and Worcester Institutes, probably as many as ten per cent. have had some experience, but only five per cent. have served their time or done enough to count for anything; while at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute as many as twenty per cent. have had shop experience. Second, that machine shop and pattern making are the more commonly offered trades; carpentry is seldom offered; wood-turning, joinery, moulding and founding, pipe-fitting and the like, are never offered. Third, the common practice seems to be to examine the young man in the shop on exactly what he can do with tools, and require him to execute with his class those exercises of the shop course in which he is deficient. At some of the schools, certificates of having been a manual training scholar, or of having worked one year in a shop, is sufficient to excuse him from that subject. As manufacturing shops differ among themselves, especially in the amount of instruction and variety of work they give their boys during the first year, this does not appeal to the writer as being a safe rule, nor does it seem to be setting much value on the school-shop training. In no reply is any mention made of the requirement of certificates or examinations on the amount of knowledge possessed as to the technology, speeds and shapes of tools, their methods of use, or to shopschool training. Fourth, as to whether passing a man on shop work on certificate or after examination has proven satisfactory, the result depends largely on the care and thoroughness of the examiner of the certificate and of the student. In a number of cases, it is reported as not being as satisfactory as the regular shop course. Fifth, in answer to the question asking
what special inducements are held out to experienced mechanics to take a course of study, the almost invariable answer was “none.” The exceptions were that in several State Colleges, men over twenty-one years of age are allowed to try the course on their own responsibility and without any examination. At Stevens, the “dropping of French and Spherical Trigonometry was done with a view to attracting such students.” At several, students who are experienced mechanics are allowed to pay their tuition fees and to earn money by their labor. In only two is any mention made of allowing shop work to be offered as the equivalent of language or mathematics, and nothing is said as to what course the student pursues who has never studied Algebra and Geometry.
There are three classes of applicants for credit for shop experience in entrance examinations : the boy from the Manual Training School, the boy who has worked in a shop under instruction before taking his intended technical school course, and lastly, the young man who has served his full time at one trade or has partly done so. The first class may form as many as twenty-five per cent in some of our Eastern schools, but for the entire country will average nearer five per cent; the second class will average less than one per cent; while the third class, as has been shown, will probably average less than five per cent. It is not a question of giving just credit for work already performed, but the rather of making such changes in the existing courses as will accommodate those persons who might become applicants, and make good engineers.