Early entrance at Shimer College
The early entrance program at Shimer College, known at different times as the Early Entrant Program and Early Entrance Program, is a program that allows high school students to go to college early. Early entrants at Shimer are admitted as regular college students after completing at least two years of high school, but before receiving a high school diploma or GED. Begun with the conversion of Shimer to a Great Books curriculum in 1950, this program is the longest-running college early entrance program in the United States.
Early entrants, who have historically made up about 20% of the student body, participate in the school's discussion-based Great Books curriculum as equals with other students. Although for many years early entrants were governed by the same open admissions policy as other Shimer applicants, currently they must show that they are in the top 25% according to at least one quantitative metric. Many of the school's most distinguished 20th-century alumni have been early entrants.
As of 2008, early entrants accounted for 16% of Shimer College enrollment.
Early entrants participate in the same courses, and are graded on the same scale, as all other Shimer students. All Shimer students go through a four-year core curriculum of Great Books discussion classes. No classes have more than 12 students. In addition, students take electives and tutorials, which are available both from Shimer faculty and from the three schools with which Shimer has an articulation agreement: Illinois Institute of Technology, Vandercook College of Music, and Harold Washington College.
Early entrants also have equal access to the specialized curricular offerings of the college. These include the biennial study abroad program at Oxford University and a 6-year accelerated JD program offered in cooperation with Chicago-Kent College of Law.
In 1950, Shimer College adapted the Great Books academic program of the College of the University of Chicago, a program developed under the leadership of Robert Maynard Hutchins in the 1930s and 1940s. Shimer was then located in the small rural town of Mount Carroll, Illinois. In introducing the Hutchins program at Shimer, it was hoped that parents of early entrants would be more willing to send their children to Mount Carroll than to the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago.
In the decades prior to 1950, Shimer had been a women's four-year junior college, catering to students from 11th grade through the second year of college. As a result, unlike other schools which introduced early entrance in the 1950s, Shimer had a faculty and administration who were used to dealing with students of high school age.
In 1951, Shimer was one of eleven colleges provided by the Fund for the Advancement of Education, an offshoot of the Ford Foundation, with scholarship funding for early entrants. The Fund had been established at the initiative of Robert Maynard Hutchins, who had taken an executive position at the Ford Foundation after leaving the University of Chicago, and this initiative, like many others, reflected Hutchins' unorthodox educational priorities. The Fund's support allowed the school's enrollment and revenues to increase; during the mid-1950s, early entrants receiving Ford Foundation scholarships accounted for more than 80% of the student body. As the grant's expiration neared in 1956, the ensuing shortfall in funding nearly forced Shimer to close its doors. 
Although very small in scale—only 1,350 students had been admitted across all twelve colleges through 1954—the Fund's "Early Admission Program" ignited a firestorm of controversy. The executive secretary of the National Association of Secondary-School Principals described it as "an 'A-bomb' dropped on secondary education." Many high-school principals refused to inform their students of the opportunity to participate. The program was an educational success, with students outperforming comparison groups, but because of the hostility from both high schools and university faculty, early entrance programs quickly fizzled out at most participating colleges other than Shimer.
Although full scholarships for early entrants were never again the norm after the expiration of the Fund for the Advancement of Education grant, Shimer has continued to the present day to offer a modest scholarship bearing Hutchins' name to all admitted early entrants. Funding to support early entrance has also been provided at times by the Carnegie and SURDNA Foundations.
As of 2010, applicants for early entrance must place in at least the top quartile in at least one of four metrics: SAT, ACT, GPA, or class rank. In addition, although Shimer generally does not require standardized test scores for admission, as a matter of principle, early entrants must take either the SAT or ACT.
For much of its history, the early entrance program at Shimer had no fixed entrance requirements. This was in accordance with the guiding philosophy of the Hutchins program, where students self-selected and worked at their own pace. This open-door policy contrasted with programs developed more recently, in the 1970s and 1980s, which targeted only the "gifted" or "exceptionally gifted". It was radical even in its time; among the twelve colleges participating in the Fund for the Advancement of Education program in the 1950s, Shimer was the only one to pursue a truly open admissions policy. Due to the mixed results of this initial experiment, however, the admissions requirements were subsequently tightened to be more similar to those of the other participating schools.
The 1978 Shimer catalog stated:
- Because each applicant is considered individually, no rigid standards are imposed on the program. Instead, the college prefers to read the application of any student who is intrigued with the idea of starting college at the end of his or her sophomore or junior year of high school, or after a period of absence from an academic environment. Shimer considers a student's sincere interest and desire to be one of the major contributing factors to his or her success.
Graduates and former students of Shimer College who enrolled through early entrance include:
- Carol S. Bruch, 1960, scholar of family law
- Peter Cooley, 1962, poet
- Redd Griffin, 1960, Illinois state legislator and historian
- Steve Heller, 1971, programmer and author
- Robert Keohane, 1961, international relations theorist
- Kenneth Knabb, 1965, writer and translator
- Jerome Kristian, 1953, observational cosmologist
- Kenneth Olwig, 1967, geographer
- Laurie Spiegel, 1967, electronic composer
- Sydney Spiesel, 1961, pediatrician and clinical professor
- Elizabeth Vandiver, 1976, professor of classics
- Roland Winston, 1953, high-energy physicist and solar energy expert
- Catherine Yronwode, 1965, writer and editor
- Dzuback, Mary Ann (1991). Robert M. Hutchins: Portrait of an Educator. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-17710-6.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education (1953). Bridging the Gap Between School and College. New York. OCLC 757300.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education (1957). They Went to College Early. New York. OCLC 00235008.
- Kerr, Barbara (2009). "Early Admission, College". Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent, Volume 1. SAGE. pp. 266–267. ISBN 1-4129-4971-8.
- Moorhead, Patrick H. (1983). Shimer College Presidency 1930 to 1980 (Ed.D. thesis). Loyola University of Chicago. OCLC 9789513.
- Woodring, Paul (1970). Investment in innovation: an historical appraisal of the Fund for the Advancement of Education. Little, Brown & Co. OCLC 103369.
- Shimer College (1978). Shimer College Catalog, 1978-1979. p. 26.
- Shimer College. "Early Entrant Program". Shimer.edu. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- Shimer College. "Application Guide to the Early Entrant Program". shimer.edu. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- "Entering Class by the Numbers" (PDF). Symposium (Shimer College). Fall 2008. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
- Moorhead 1983, p. 117.
- Moorhead 1983, p. 118.
- John Dale Russell et al. (1944). Report of a Survey of Frances Shimer College. Chicago: University of Chicago Department of Education.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education 1957, p. 84.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education 1957, p. 6.
- Woodring 1970, p. 64-65.
- Moorhead 1983, p. 127.
- Moorhead 1983, p. 147.
- S.A. Schreiner, Jr. (1954). "Do Children Waste Years in School?". In Scott, C. Winfield and Hill, Clyde M. Public Education under Criticism. New York: Prentice-Hall. pp. 73–74. (Originally published in Parade magazine, 1952-05-04, pp. 6–7.)
- Woodring 1970, p. 153-154.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education 1957, p. 7.
- Woodring 1970, p. 154.
- Shimer College. "Apply to Shimer". Retrieved 2011-11-21.
- Dzuback 1991, p. 155.
- Kerr 2009, p. 267.
- Fund for the Advancement of Education 1957, p. 12.
- Jan Erkert (23 December 1971). "High court justice names area woman". Rockford Register-Republic. p. A3.
- "Carol S. Bruch". UC Davis School of Law. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- Peter Cooley (1990). "The Failure of a Shimer Education". In My Beginning Is My End: Commencement Speeches at Shimer College. p. 46.
- Ken Trainor (20 November 2012). "Remembering Redd". Wednesday Journal. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Alumni Profiles: Robert Keohane". Shimer.edu. Retrieved 2010-11-14.
- Ken Knabb. "Part 1 (1945-1969)". Confessions of a Mild-Mannered Enemy of the State. Retrieved 2010-11-15.
- "Alumni Profiles: Laurie Spiegel". Shimer.edu. Retrieved 2010-11-14.
- Catherine Yronwode. "Catherine Yronwode". yronwode.com. Retrieved 2011-05-25.