Fridays with Fred: Tasty Tuition, Cabbages for Calculus

Beloit’s payment used to be far more flexible than today.

Battling the Great Depression of the 1930s, Beloit College did everything in its power to keep its students during hard times. The administration chartered daily buses so that students from the Rockford area could commute. Faculty and staff sacrificed 10 percent of their salaries to cope with the college’s deficit. President Irving Maurer reduced his own salary by 19 percent in 1932.

“When will this panic end?” Maurer wrote in his diary that October. “Someday we’ll look back and wonder how we survived.”

In September 1931, a Rock County farmer walked into the college’s business office and posed a question. He had no ready cash to pay for his child’s tuition. Would the college accept potatoes, hams, and vegetables? According to the Beloit Alumnus, the college didn’t mind at all. There were plenty of hungry students. “The young man’s bill was stamped paid,” stated the publication.

Two days later, a consignment of food made its way to dormitory kitchens and then two more families stepped forward with similar arrangements. “One of the latter also turned in some home-canned fruit and vegetables which for a while made the treasurer’s office look more like a grocery store than the financial headquarters of a college.”

The news caught fire and some 230 newspapers from across the United States published humorous pieces under headlines like “Tasty Tuition,” “Food for Thought,” “Raise Tuition,” and “Students Can Swap Cabbages for Calculus.” The Beloit Alumnus dutifully reported the unexpected publicity windfall, but assured its readers, “It is no joke to the three earnest students who, by virtue of farm produce, are cherishing receipted bills for the year’s tuition” – and then couldn’t resist adding – “Here surely is food for thought.”

Fred Burwell’86
October 19, 2011

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