If you looked at the front page today, you might have seen an article about Drexel charging a new fee to prospective students for processing their application. This isn’t an uncommon practice and it isn’t unjustified: paying people to process multiple tens of thousands of applications is expensive, especially when they’re applying with the Common Application and just have to check off schools rather than craft an individual response.
However, the same article mentions a fact that is often overlooked: Anthony J. Drexel, our University’s founder, intended for Drexel to be an affordable school for middle and lower class students to learn practical trades and professions, and to improve their lot in life. The University was built in West Philadelphia, on cheap land nestled between the Pennsylvania Railroad freight house, a slaughterhouse and Abbot’s Dairy (now Lot F). Innumerable tenements and rowhouses lined the crowded streets around the new University, with the Market Street El (it only went as far as City Hall in those days) rumbling by conspicuously in the background.
Things have changed since then. The el has become a subway. The freight house has been converted to the luxurious Left Bank apartments. The slaughterhouse is now Slainte Irish Pub. Abbot’s Dairy has been torn down, and Fall Fest held in the parking lot that’s now in its place. The rowhouses have all come down, replaced by Domus or Chestnut Square, or other overpriced student housing. And Drexel as an institution has changed, too, from an affordable college for the working class to the 16th most expensive private university in the United States. We’ve become more selective, more research-oriented, and most of all more costly.
When we talk about “the founders’ intentions” it’s usually in response to some constitutional crisis and you can pay anyone however much you want to interpret Jefferson, Franklin and Adams anyway you like. In Drexel’s case, the founder, singular, has had his intentions largely ignored and discarded in favor of creating the most extravagant university-slash-real estate venture the world has ever seen, and no one cares how many students must be mired in nondischargeable hundred thousand dollar student loan debt for the rest of their lives.
A 50 dollar application fee isn’t moving us far in one way or another. But when we think of the founder’s intentions, of a school where ordinary working class men and women could come for an affordable and practical education, and then look at where we are today, heading toward more selectivity and higher tuitions, perhaps we ought to take time to pause and reflect.
We think it’s time for the University’s administration to momentarily take a step back from looking toward the future and remember the foundation the University was built on. While we are glad to be part of a university that is constantly progressing education and research, we desire the affordable education that A.J. Drexel wanted to provide. How would he view the University in its current state?