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Educational Chronicles: The Evolution of American Universities

The Chronicle was launched in 1966 and originally owned by a nonprofit, Editorial Projects in Education. It was sold in 1978 to Jack Crowl and Corbin Gwaltney, who founded The Chronicle of Higher Education Inc.

An illuminating history of how colleges and universities have transformed their missions and ideals. It is an important historical reference for anyone interested in the future of American higher education.

The Origins of Colleges and Universities

When universities first appeared in the United States, they tended to serve the elite classes. But the 1862 Morrill Act encouraged states to create public colleges, promising a secular education. These public institutions drew students from all walks of life and grew rapidly.

These changes brought college education down to earth. The curriculum became more practical, focusing on subjects that directly affected industrial production—chemistry and physics departments arose. Universities forged links with industry and produced educated workers for the nation’s factories.

A lack of national academic standards led to the entrance of private agencies such as the Carnegie Foundation and the Rockefeller General Education Board, which coerced universities into adhering to reasonable admissions and instruction criteria. This gave rise to the American research university. But this model had its limits. As the century progressed, schools spread their wings to global locations, including NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai.

The Early Years

Breathtaking in scope, Educational Chronicles tells the story of the development of the American university system. Unlike many other countries where higher education systems evolved from centralized, state-supported institutions, the United States developed an informal configuration of varied colleges and universities.

Colleges were initially established to foster religion and science, but soon became a tool for social mobility. After the Civil War colleges enrolled more women and integrated their student bodies. They also participated directly in a complex national war effort, earning them government-sponsored readjustments.

Expanded access and growing state investments in research spurred a managerial revolution in colleges, introducing practices of administration and planning that led to reliance on standardized tests like the SAT. These pressures created a culture of overextension that would eventually test the sustainability of the institution in times of financial stress.

The Middle Ages

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Europe experienced dramatic economic growth, urban expansion, new social stability, and a reshaping of religious and secular institutions. It was the age of Gothic architecture, the Crusades, ecclesiastical reform, popular religious orders, and the rediscovery of ancient Greek learning by the likes of Thomas Aquinas.

During this period college-based research grew rapidly, leading to competition for the best private donors, students, and professors. This virtuous circle contributed to the rapid rise of American universities during this time, but it also created enormous expectations for continued support. These demands ultimately brought a period of financial turmoil to higher education in the United States. Many schools were forced to rely on state subsidies, which led to fiscal crises in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The Renaissance

The modern American university is a complex system of varied institutions. In contrast to many other nations, which centralized their universities around an elite, national university, the United States developed its postsecondary education through a series of different influences and events.

Religious groups founded many early colleges. They offered a range of liberal arts studies to cultivate faith. However, as the country became more industrialized and science-driven, the universities shifted their focus to chemistry and physics.

The government became involved in funding higher education through the Morrill Act, which encouraged the development of land-grant colleges. It also established guidelines for racial segregation at colleges. With these developments, academic professionalism began to grow. Students aspired to become doctoral candidates. Colleges began to offer degrees for various professions, including agriculture, engineering, business, home economics, and education. The growing variety of degrees created a new definition of the modern university.

The Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment produced a flurry of books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws and wars. It inspired the American and French Revolutions and gave rise to 19th-century Romanticism.

Colleges reacted to these challenges by expanding their curriculum and offering specialized degrees. New private institutions like Cornell, Johns Hopkins and Columbia drew students with their reputations for excellence. And, under the Morrill Act, state universities began to offer engineering, agricultural and military sciences in addition to their liberal arts programs.

This expansion and growing national investment also led to a managerial revolution in higher education as colleges sought professional expertise and developed aptitudes for planning and coordination. This managerial approach would help to ensure that universities could run their operations as well as consider new roles for themselves. It would also help to give rise to the Educational Testing Service’s SAT exam.

The Age of Revolution

One of the most significant and useful single-volume histories of higher education available. Breathtaking in scope, Rudy combines a mastery of narrative detail with a unity and continuity that transcends centuries and decades.

In the aftermath of World War II, students and society began to see colleges as a path to economic security. The GI Bill eliminated costs, and universities opened their doors to women and minorities.

The prestige of American universities grew, and universities competed in a snakelike procession, whereby institutions lower in the hierarchy try to catch the head—the universities that earn top reputations for admissions, instruction, and research. But there was still a gap in national academic standards, as illustrated by an index entry for Haiti (see San Domingo)…

The Age of Empire

With the end of the Civil War higher education entered an age of expansion. New schools opened to prepare workers in the expanding industrial economy, mainly in the Northeastern United States. These schools focused on teaching skills and promoting upward mobility.

Universities also developed into powerful incubators of research. Lasers, FM radio, the Richter scale, the pap smear, Gatorade, the algorithm for Google, antibiotics, vaccines, the electric toothbrush, and scientific agriculture all originated at the country’s top institutions.

But the expansion came at a price. As a result, many colleges became indebted and overextended. Over the decades, business leaders, philanthropists, and politicians demanded efficiency and utility from American higher education. This cycle continues today. Colleges have learned to assimilate reform when it is beneficial, and to resist it when it attacks their autonomy or values. This seminal book reveals how that process works.

The Age of Discovery

When educated Americans think of colleges and universities, they probably do not picture the dazzling array of discoveries that these institutions have made. Nevertheless, such discoveries as the atomic bomb, FM radio, recombinant DNA, bar codes, GPS technology, the Richter scale, the pap smear, antibiotics, and scientific agriculture all have their origins in American research universities.

By the end of the nineteenth century, America’s research universities had reached global dominance. Competition for private donors and talented students enabled these institutions to foster virtuous cycles in which good research was rewarded with excellent teaching. In the absence of national academic standards, foundations imposed coercive measures and incentives that prompted universities to adopt reasonable criteria for admissions and instruction. The result was a more unified educational system. This system paved the way for the modern American university. A comprehensive history of higher education’s evolution in America.

The Age of Industry

The industrial revolution of the 1800s transformed not only the things we made, but also how and where we learned. During this time, colleges reshaped themselves to meet the demands of new professions and industries that depended on skilled employees. Chemistry and physics departments expanded; well-rounded educations became essential for advancement; and institutions competed to attract the best students.

The modern American university, defined by graduate programs and a diversified curriculum, emerged. Private donors founded Cornell and Johns Hopkins. Land-grant universities established engineering, agriculture, and military studies along with liberal arts. The Carnegie classification of higher education aimed at making quantitative distinctions, but it has also helped colleges to identify and compare themselves against one another. Colleges know how to respond to reform, whether beneficial or hostile, to maintain their reputations. This edition includes chapters updating developments in higher education over the past twenty years.

The Age of Agriculture

Breathtaking in scope and rich in narrative detail, this comprehensive history of higher education in America focuses on colleges and universities from the colonial period through World War II. Rudolph examines a wide range of issues from the financing of schools and curriculum development to the rise of college athletics. He shows how American institutions developed a strong track record in supporting national efforts during times of duress, winning long-term rewards and readjustments for students returning from wartime service.

In the first century after independence, colleges differentiated themselves by religion and curricular emphasis. They struggled with a lack of national academic standards, which prompted private agencies to step in. These organizations used coercion and incentives to prompt universities to adhere to reasonable criteria of admissions, instruction, and research. This “managerial revolution” helped colleges hone their ability to navigate institutional change.


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