History on Repeat
A Link Between Typewriters and the World Wide Web
Technology innovations drive career school innovation for more than a century
By Kevin Kuzma, Contributing Writer
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” — Edmund Burke
The old adage that history repeats itself is never more prophetic than in the realm of career education. Like passing fashion fads that end up returning to the spotlight years later—nearly identical to their first incarnation—critical moments that seemed to pass by forever decades ago eventually make a comeback. These historical boomerangs include trends in policy and regulation, political involvement from Capitol Hill, learning techniques and strategies, technology and innovation, and more.
Career College Central’s new series, History on Repeat, will draw connections between the present and the distant past for the career college sector in hope of creating a sense of longevity and optimism about the future of career schools. Many of the facts we draw on will come directly from the Imagine America Foundation’s history book, “In Service to America: Celebrating 165 years of Career and Professional Education.” The book is a treasure trove of dates, grainy photos and facts that help bring some form to the very beginning of the sector that spawned thousands of career colleges and universities throughout our nation.
In this first series installment, we examine how a major invention in the 1860s almost immediately changed the world of business and, likewise, increased the demand for trained students from the private sector. We make a connection between the way our schools adapted to this significant change in the business world the first time around with a more recent innovation that continues to change the face of business, education and life as we know it today.
An invention that changed everything
The earliest beginnings of career education in America can be traced as far back as 1709. Private schools were offering vocational and business education years before the public education system was created. As New York and Boston became important trade centers for the colonies, the art of bookkeeping was formalized. Many tutors offered instruction in bookkeeping in these cities before 1700. We know for certain that John Green offered it in Boston in 1709, and George Brownell taught bookkeeping in New York in 1731.
This was the genesis of career-based training that began to reach as far as the borders of America began to stretch. By the 1830s, Benjamin Franklin Foster founded Foster’s Commercial School of Boston. Commercial courses had been available for a number of years, but most historians denote Foster’s school as the first established in the United States that specialized in training for commerce.
A mere 30 years later, maybe the biggest revolution for career schools was led by the invention of the typewriter in 1868. The instrument brought about another major change in the American workforce as the enormous growth of business-related paperwork ensured that the time-saving typewriter was here to stay. Almost immediately, career colleges began adding courses in typewriting instruction to their program list. Women began flooding schools to acquire what was becoming an invaluable job skill.
By 1881, women were taking typing courses offered by organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association. At that time, little career advancement was available to women who held typewriting positions (one reason that this job was open to women was specifically because it offered men so little career advancement opportunity), yet it was still a significant initial step in the direction of female economic empowerment.
The substantial impact of typewriters on communications in a variety of business sectors was mainly due to their standardized format. They altered expectations of business professionalism and standardized documents, which boosted the efficiency of political administration. Suddenly, the number of communications increased dramatically as the use of typewriters became more widespread. This can be attributed to the fact that typewritten communications were vastly more legible than handwritten ones.
Typewriters became such an ingrained part of efficient communication that they were actually “rationed” during World War II. The military required typewriters for effective and quick communication and couldn’t afford to pay for hundreds of new typewriters from manufacturers during the war. Ink ribbons were also very expensive then and time-consuming to manufacture. So, the military decided to ration typewriters so their bases would have plenty of the vital supplies available.
In many ways, the typewriter ushered in the transition from men to women in clerical positions in American businesses. Soon, typewriting, accounting and shorthand became the core courses in the business education curriculum in most career colleges. They remained the bread-and-butter courses for many schools for decades—until the introduction of the computer.
Career schools embrace online learning
Fast-forward to the late 1990s and the invention of the World Wide Web. Few people could scarcely imagine when the first heard about this thing called the World Wide Web (or the internet) that it would alter life so dramatically. From the way we interact with people socially to how we work and even pursue an education, our entire world was about to change.
Career schools, which were especially open to adapting modern technology at that time to bring students a more flexible approach to education, were among the first schools to adopt online learning. Online courses were ideal for adult students with jobs or families who wanted to pursue an education, but only according to the free time available in their own schedules.
By 2008, online learning had exploded. According to a survey sponsored by the New Media Consortium, nearly two-thirds of respondents from academia reported offering online courses. Today, studies show that about 46 percent of college students are taking at least one course online, and that by 2019, roughly half of all college classes will be digitally based.
The career college sector realized early on that the demand for most programs online would soon be high, whether or not the curriculum seemed to call for direct, hands-on instruction. Courses in medical billing and coding, paralegal, medical assistant, fitness trainer, and even various culinary arts programs took off online.
These flexible learning options opened up education to people from a range of educational backgrounds and careers. Students could create their own integrated learning schedule that included online learning and some traditional face-to-face methods. This fit the lives of many individuals who wanted to save money on transportation or child care and did not want to be restricted to attending classes on campus. For many online courses, students were able to log in for a determined number of days per week to ensure they completed assignments on time and communicated (virtually) with their fellow students and instructors.
Rise in traditional students
While typewriters caused an influx of women into schools and eventually the workplace, the advent of the internet did something similar for older, nontraditional students. Online learning caused a rise in the enrollment of “nontraditional” students that has changed the face of education. According to The Atlantic magazine
· Currently about 17.6 million undergraduates are enrolled in American higher education
· 15 percent of them attend four-year colleges and live on campus
· 32 percent of these students work full time
· 38 percent of those enrolled are over the age of 25, and 25 percent are over the age of 30
· It is projected that the share of all students who are over age 25 will increase another 23 percent by 2019
Online technology that allows working professionals to learn anywhere in the world offers them a chance to earn a top-quality education without putting their careers, family or life on hold.