Seventy-five years ago -- May 19, 1938 -- the Berkeley Daily Gazette carried three editorials that provide a glimpse of how the future was being prognosticated way back then.

In the first two of those cases, the predictions or underlying assumptions seem to be, in hindsight, quite far off the mark and should give us pause about predicting future trends beyond our own time.

In the first editorial, the Gazette reported on the "disheartening prospects" of a Columbia University professor, Walter Pitkin, predicting "the outlook for American colleges is dark ... He thinks most of them are doomed to extinction in the next 20 or 25 years."

"There is not room in tomorrow's America (he said) for the 745 colleges and universities of the standard American brands, comprised chiefly of liberal arts, agricultural and technical institutions. The liberal arts college, far in the majority today, will continue to have its place in education but not ever in its present over-expanded form."

Pitkin predicted that some 450 colleges would disappear, another 150 would exist only by admitting "borderline students," and the remaining 150 or so would "survive only by virtue of 'academic, social-economic

or geographical status.'"

The doomed colleges might struggle by, he imagined, only by developing specialties such as "the training of aviators, air-conditioning experts, advertising layout men, junior business executives, transportation experts, and so on."


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While technical and professional training in colleges is indeed a booming field today, the prediction of the number of colleges was far off the mark. One online statistic I found says there were 2,774 four-year colleges in the United States in 2009-10, or over eight times the number Pitkin imagined.

The second editorial reported a bright future for motorists.

"The nation's roads have improved immensely, and so have the automobiles.

"A person can drive twice as far in a day, and do it with less fatigue than he could a decade ago. He does it also at much less cost per mile. There are more stoplights, to be sure, in the more thickly settled parts of the country, and tourists are often delayed by city lights and traffic; but a few more years and those difficulties will be solved."

It's that last part about "difficulties will be solved" that doesn't ring true as a prediction. The average driver or editorialist of 1938 seems to have no idea of both the number of automobiles and roads, and the types of traffic delays, that the future would actually hold.

Finally, there's a third editorial which I'll leave it to you, the reader, to judge for prescience. It lamented "the appalling increase in the number of bicycle accidents ... The causes are mainly careless riding and lack of lights at night."

A bulletin of the Metropolitan life Insurance Co. says: "The unpredictable actions of boy bicyclists have given motorists many uneasy moments. Youthful cyclists will swerve suddenly and wildly, often in the direction of a car approaching them. They cut across traffic lanes, pedaling furiously, depending on their speed and skill for safety. They dart into the road from between parked cars, quite often with another lad sitting on the handle-bars.'"

Cal graduation

A total of 3,650 students were scheduled to receive degrees or certificates at UC Berkeley's 75th graduation on May 21, 1938 -- 2,557 of those were bachelor's degrees. The event was held in California Memorial Stadium and the participants represented the largest graduating class in UC history.

The day before, the university announced that 430 continuing students would receive fellowships or scholarships for the coming 1938-39 academic year. Scholarships were gold in that era when there were no federally backed student loan programs.