The Shaping of American Higher Education: Emergence and Growth

Emergence of the American University
Trustin Clear
ISyE 8803 Spring 2011
* This outline is adapted from Arthur Cohen’s
The Shaping of American Higher Education:
Emergence and Growth of the Contemporary
* Following Cohen’s scheme, the discussion is
organized chronologically by era, and topically
within eras, addressing Societal Context,
Institutions, Students, Faculty, Curriculum,
Governance, Finance, and Outcomes
Following Old World Models
* Immigrants came to the New World for a variety of
reasons, including the desire for religious freedom,
commercial success, and access to land
* Socially and culturally, the colonies were decidedly
English, and religion was central to colony life
* The abundance of land and openness of opportunity
led to optimism and the coexistence of many
diverse social and religious groups
* Nine colleges were organized in the colonies during
this period, modeled on European educational forms
* Curriculum and faculty-student relations drawn
primarily from the example of church-related
* Colonial institutions adopted lay governing boards
from Scottish universities, and the curriculum and
residential pattern from Cambridge
* Emphasis on preparing ministers and civil servants,
not professional education
* Few young people in the American colonies
went to college, and few careers required it
* Colleges were designed to teach discipline,
morals, and character, and to take charge of
pupils’ lives
* Admissions requirements included Latin and
Greek, limiting the student population
* Enduring patterns of student life, including
residency requirements, developed during this
* Too few faculty to form a critical mass of likeminded colleagues
* Institutions employed a combination of tutors
and professors, with teaching slow to develop
as a profession
* Tutors and professors were expected to accept
low wages in exchange for the prestige of
institutional affiliation, a pattern that would
* Curriculum was designed to be practical, but
the definition of practicality changes from era
to era
* All students were required to take a standard
set of courses
* Curriculum in the colonial colleges was
imported from Europe with little modification
* As the era progressed, programs of study began
to incorporate science and political philosophy,
with more emphasis on deductive reasoning
* Instruction based on the authority of classic texts
was prevalent throughout the era, but clashed with
the adoption of empirical methods
* Instruction in Latin and Greek gave way to
instruction in English as pedagogy based on
experiments and experimental evidence became
* The basis of instruction shifted from church
doctrine to secular humanism to empiricism, with
each orientation justified as practical in its time
* Colleges founded with a combination of public and
private control
* Institutions overseen by boards or clergymen or
magistrates, who appointed a president responsible
for day-to-day administration
* Board members were often representatives of
organized religion, but institutions emphasized
interdenominational freedom
* As the era progressed, religious influence was
replaced by that of businessmen and politicians
* Even with this change, faculty never gained more
than token representation on institutional boards
* Institutions depended on funding from a variety of
sources, including voluntary contributions and
governmental bodies
* Governments donated land, granted tax
advantages, and legislated appropriations
* Church groups, private donors, and subscribers
provided additional means of support
* Tuition and fees were secondary, but necessary for
institutions to survive
* Colleges in this era were not well endowed, leading
to the continuous search for new sources of funding
* Very few graduates were produced during this era,
but institutions had a broader impact
* Many graduates became influential in the ministry
and public service; others had to be flexible in
applying the knowledge they gained
* College attendance enhanced individual mobility,
and played a role in acculturating students
* Institutions were concerned primarily with the
preservation of knowledge, not its advancement
* Institutions conferred prestige on graduates and on
host communities
Proliferating Institutions and Expanding Access
* The United States rapidly acquired territory
after its establishment, with large numbers of
immigrants arriving to take advantage of new
* Church membership increased during this
period, with many denominations migrating
west and establishing colleges
* Growing tension between north and south and
calls for social reform, especially the abolition
of slavery, dominated the era
* Hundreds of colleges were formed during this era,
driven by diffusion of the population, the proliferation
of religious denominations, and a general feeling of
* A lack of regulations made it easy to establish
colleges, and the lack of federal educational oversight
encouraged the development of a free and open
educational market
* The proliferation of institutions kept enrollments small
and made survival difficult
* As interest in science education increased, German
universities became models for the college system,
but research activities remained limited
* The student base broadened during this era,
dramatically increasing in size and beginning to
include women and minorities
* Enrollment did not keep pace with the
population, and colleges faced competition for
adequately prepared students
* College residential life developed with the
proliferation of student societies and the
inclusion of women, but segments of the
population remained systematically excluded
* Professionalization of faculty progressed rapidly at
the beginning of the emergent nation era, marked
by the emergence of professorship as a worthy
career goal
* American college graduates who received additional
training in Germany influenced thought on faculty
roles in research
* Throughout the era, most faculty held outside jobs,
due to inadequate college salaries
* As faculty members specialized, loyalty to academic
disciplines began to supplant loyalty to institutions
* Varied, vocational curricula began to emerge, but not
without tension between classical and practical studies
* The Yale report of 1828 provided a rationale for retaining
classical studies without recourse to religion as a motivating
* Electives and separate curricular tracks were introduced, but
met resistance from traditionalists
* Programs often included classical learning in parallel with
new offerings
* Appeals to the authority of classical sources began to give
way to lecture and laboratory instruction, with performance
evaluated through written examinations
* The pattern of governance under a nonacademic
board of trustees continued in the emergent nation
era, both for private and for public colleges
* These patterns were well established before the
faculty became a self-conscious professional group,
limiting the faculty role in institutional
* As the era progressed, clergymen were replaced by
mercantile and professional people on boards of
trustees, and public institutions often limited the
participation of religious figures
* As with governance, financing of colleges followed
the patterns established in the colonial era
* Colleges relied on private donors and fundraising,
with tuition remaining a secondary source of
financial support
* Governments continued to support institutions by
giving tax advantages, land grants, and legislative
* Most institutions had insufficient funds, with de
facto support often provided by staff who received
little if any compensation
* Outcomes were similar to those in the colonial era,
but new effects emerged as well, primarily
preparation for emergent professions
* Religious revivalism helped spur the establishment
of many new colleges, but retarded the adoption of
scientific thinking
* Institutions dedicated to training engineers
emerged during this period, led by the U.S. Military
Academy and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
* By the end of the era, research was growing in
importance at leading institutions, but this process
was slow to develop
Emergence of the Research University
* Industrialization was critical in promoting the
changes observed in the university transformation
* Secondary schools enabled growing enrollment by
preparing large numbers of people for college
* Higher education grew in practical importance as
wealth accumulated and institutions attained a size
that allowed specialization
* Establishment of a national income tax in 1913 led
to the growth of philanthropic foundations, which
became important in supporting research and
* The defining institutional development of this era was
the emergence of the university, which combined an
undergraduate college with professional schools,
graduate departments, and service components
* The transformation of colleges into universities
reflected the influence of higher education in
* The rapid growth of universities was enabled by public
funding through the Morrill Act of 1862, as well as by
private fortunes amassed in industry
* Imitation and competition among universities led to
the pursuit of new disciplines and the incorporation of
specialized facilities
* The percentage of young people entering college
increased as education came to be seen as a means
of improving social standing, and as occupational
groups began to demand college education for their
* Demand for enrollment at leading institutions
exceeded capacity, leading to expanded admissions
requirements and standardized admissions testing
* Residential student life evolved with the growth of
intercollegiate athletics and student social networks
* Faculty roles evolved during the university
transformation era through differentiation into
faculty ranks, formation of disciplinary
departments, and the expansion of academic
* Concepts of tenure and sabbatical leave developed
as faculty members became more organized and
* Faculty gained control over department personnel
decisions and curricula, but remained underpaid
relative to the training required by their positions
* Options for study increased tremendously as
departments and faculties grew
* Implicit in this change was recognition that the
university’s mission was career preparation,
organized research, and gaining prestige, not
teaching common knowledge or values
* Methods of instruction evolved with the growth of
enrollment and study options, marked by
standardized examinations, the introduction of
letter grades, and the influence of philanthropic
* Institutional governance in the university
transformation era continued the trend toward
* Governance structures shifted in the direction
of administrative hierarchies and bureaucratic
management systems
* The emerging system relied on voluntary
agreements, imitation, and competition, rather
than legislation
* Institutions continued to be supported by a
combination of private donations and tuition
* Large private endowments helped new universities
support a broad range of activities, and
philanthropic foundations encouraged the adoption
of higher standards through conditional grants
* State support of both public and private institutions
continued, but was highly dependent on economic
* Federal support extended beyond the Morrill Acts,
helping institutions survive the difficulties of the
great depression
* The growth of universities resulted in new outcomes
for higher education
* Emerging universities supported rapid growth in
natural science research, and later in agricultural
and mechanical areas as well
* University education prepared individuals for
service in newly reorganized professions, and
contributed to the prestige of those professions
* Universities became engines of economic growth as
increased funding indirectly benefited communities
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