There are other appeals to aspiration in the professions. When the layman seeks for social preferment, he must bring with him either the certificate of gentle birth or the indorsement of his banker. The professional man has a standing, however, far in excess of what he might command as the result of his financial standing.
The profession of law, in like manner, has, in the minds of the common people, always set a man apart from his fellows. About his profession, too, there is the charm of mystery, the thought of thrilling flights of oratory and high adventure in the courts of law, of opportunities for great financial success, and for political preferment.
Of late years the profession of engineering has called to the youth of the land with an almost irresistible voice. The development of steam and gasoline engines, of the electric current, and of a welter of machinery called for engineers. The specialization of engineering practice into production, chemical, industrial, municipal, efficiency, mining, construction, concrete, drainage, irrigation, landscape, and other phases, has still further increased the demand. Some few engineers, by means of keen financial ability in addition to extraordinary powers in the engineering field, have made themselves names of international fame, as well as great fortunes. All these things have fired the ambitions of our youth, and the engineering schools are full.
Our colleges and universities, in their academic courses, do not fit their students for business, neither do they fit them for any of the professions. They are graduated “neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring,” so far as vocation goes. Being an educated man, in his own estimation, the bearer of a college degree cannot go into business, he cannot “go back” into manual labor. So he must go forward. There is no way for him to go forward, so far as he knows, except to enter some technical school and prepare himself for one of the “learned professions.”
Go into the graduating class in any college or university, and ask the young men what their plans for the future are. How many of them will reply that they are going into business? How many of them that they are going into agriculture? How many that they are going into manufacturing? Our experience is a very small percentage. Many of them have not yet made up their minds what they will do. The great majority of those who have made up their minds are headed toward the law, medicine, the ministry, or engineering. This is a great pity. Why should the teachers and counselors of these young men encourage them in preparing themselves for professions which are already over-crowded and which bid fair, within the next ten years, to become still more seriously congested? Perhaps the professors do not know these things. If so, a little common sense would suggest that it is their business to find out. Nor would the truth be difficult to learn.