Western Colleges, Eastern Money

  • Education
  • 1843

A surprising number of colleges were founded in the early American West, but most struggled to find a financial footing. The periodic economic panics took a toll on educational philanthropy and even voided pledges undertaken during boom years. The successes of schools like Transylvania University and Western Reserve, though, attracted a stream of additional entries.

Congregationalists and Presbyterians wanting to support the expansion of Western colleges teamed up in 1843 to found the Society for the Promotion of Collegiate and Theological Education. The society maintained a rolling list of schools it supported, adding a new one in need whenever a school could be moved off the list after gaining a measure of financial security. Its board was based in the East, where each of the supported schools would send a fundraising agent who the society would help make appeals to local pastors and parishes. Money raised by the agents was put into a common fund and disbursed in previously agreed percentages.

By linking frontier schools with sympathetic religious congregations in the East, the society enabled colleges to weather the inherent challenges of starting new institutions in raw lands, and the difficulties of an unsteady economy. By the time of its merger with another organization in 1874, the society had raised more than a million dollars in small contributions to sustain 18 colleges throughout the West.

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