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The Shaping of American Higher Education - Summary and Trends

Tomorrow's Academy

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American higher education\'s status, both at home and abroad, is secured by its traditional value and power. Perhaps most important now is its ability to adapt to changing conditions. No one knows what higher education will look like in coming years. The only certainty is that an open system will continue experimenting with forms and content, learning and revising as it goes, even while retaining the strengths it has developed over the past 375 years. The American people deserve no less from institutions that are part of the fabric of their society and manifestations of the nation\'s self.



The posting below gives a nice summary of the history of American higher education and a look at what might be happening in the coming decades. It is from the section, Summary and Trends in the book, The Shaping of American Higher Education: Emergence and Growth of the Contemporary System, second edition by Arthur M. Cohen, with Carrie B. Kisker. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint. 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741- Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academia

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The Shaping of American Higher Education - Summary and Trends


This book has recounted the major trends in higher education since the Colonial Era, several of which slowed or showed distinct signs of reversal in the most recent periods. Institutions grew larger and more varied. Students gained access as institutional types emerged or evolved to serve all comers. Faculty professionalization progressed steadily, reaching a peak in the Mass Higher Education Era, before losing ground to part-time, fungible labor. The curriculum expanded, especially toward occupational studies. Institutional governance moved toward secularization and comprehensive, state-level units before decentralizing and taking on a corporate approach to management. Public funding for higher education increased throughout its first 350 years, then waned in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, forcing institutions to turn to private sources for support. Finally, research and outcomes moved steadily toward the service of the individual, the public, the professions, and the economy.

Which of the trends might have been predicted when the nation was formed? Large multipurpose institutions? No. The plethora of professions that would demand years of schooling prior to practice, and an economy that would allow young people to delay entry into the workforce until they were well into their twenties were not on the horizon. Student access? Yes, because it embodies the egalitarian, democratic ideal on which the nation was founded. Faculty professionalization (and then de-professionalization)? No. The first had to await the nineteenth-century German concept Lehrfreiheit and the professionalizing of several other occupational groups, and the second followed a global restructuring of work that required a more efficient and nimble (and thus less secure) workforce. A curriculum more directly related to occupations? Perhaps. The trend was on the horizon in the last few years of the Colonial Era, as the newer colleges attempted to provide a curriculum beneficial to a variety of commercial interests. Diversified financing? Yes, because from the start the colleges relied on combinations of public funds, tuition, and donations, although the eventual magnitude and then reduction of state contributions was not foreseeable. Secular governance? Yes, because governance was interdenominational in several institutions, and attempts were made early on to involve civic leaders. But state-level governance and multi-institutional systems would have been hard to visualize because the early colleges functioned independently in scattered locations. Expectations that higher education would ameliorate social problems and enhance the economy? No. The early colleges were influential in developing men of public affairs, but the economy did not depend on college-spawned inventions or a workforce trained in postsecondary institutions.

Which trends will remain intact in the decades to come? The growth of new institutions has slowed considerably and hardly any new nonprofit campuses will be built. State, federal, and private-philanthropic funds will be available to expand campus facilities but not enough to establish entire institutions. The concept of open access, well grounded in the Mass Higher Educations Era, will survive but with limitations; smaller percentages of students will have full-time, on-campus experiences. Faculty professionalization has already made a U-turn, retarded by the massive influx of both part-timers and full-timers without security of employment. Curriculum will continue broadening, as academic inquiry sustains its pattern of generating new subspecialities and as additional occupational groups seek higher education's cachet; all the external pressures on curriculum favor vocationalism. Secular governance has become dominant, and the only private groups able or inclined to overturn it will be those managing a growing for-profit sector. State-level control has already started giving way to decentralization, and some institutions have gone further, seeking charter or enterprise status, effectively trading governmental restrictions for increased accountability requirements. Privatization has changed the conditions of institutional finance, as colleges and universities at all levels have been forced to seek other funds in order to mitigate the effects of state support that has not increased sufficiently to accommodate rising costs and enrollments. The tendency to view higher education less as a set of social institutions than as a business enterprise will continue. As such, the colleges and universities may find themselves judged according to the same standards that are applied to any business: \"To what extent does this entity add value?...And can comparable value be added more efficiently by other means?\" (Schuster and Finkelstein, 2006, p. 10).

We can predict only the most powerful trends, because unforeseeable events convert specific projections into little more than informed guesses. Will the national economy return to a pattern of low inflation, low unemployment, and a balanced budget-a set of circumstances that had characterized the American economy throughout much of the Mass Higher Education, Consolidation, and Contemporary Eras, but which had been totally altered by 2009? Inflation, depression, and increased competition from other agencies will continue affecting the funds available for higher education's support, as well as the type and mode of postsecondary training desired by students.

The study of higher education remains fascinating, with many questions open in each topic:

• The Great Depression of the 1930s saw reductions in state appropriations, foundation grants, and faculty salaries, while student enrollments continued climbing as employment opportunities declined. However, the pattern of students borrowing large sums for tuition and other college expenses had not yet become pervasive. Will twenty-first-century students continue enrolling in postsecondary institutions through depressions and recessions, or will prospective students' reluctance to take on large debt burdens lead to reduced enrollments?

• The comprehensive universities' offering the doctorate and the community colleges' opening baccalaureate programs indicate that the institutions' compulsion to expand their markets were in full flower. What does the system gain or lose thereby?

• Professional training aside, one of higher education's main benefits has been to encourage students' entrepreneurial skills, teaching them to operate businesses and create new products and services. As the number of high-paying jobs available to college graduates diminishes, will greater numbers of students develop and act on tendencies to create jobs for themselves?

• For the past century research and scholarly productivity has been the gold standard for faculty seeking promotion in universities. And the concept trickled down to comprehensive institutions where the alliterative, \"publish or perish,\" became the facetious slogan with more than a grain of truth in it. Will faculty role differentiation, as in online course design and dedication to teaching, break this mode of evaluation down completely in all but the top fifty or so research universities?

• Pressure for subdividing curriculum has come mostly from faculty and professional groups. But curricular subspecialties are expensive to maintain. As the faculty as a whole is increasingly dominated by fungibles, will curricular specialties subside and recombinations grow? Which curricular areas are most likely to evidence these trends?

• Three percent (1.5 million) of American children are home-schooled, up from 1.7 percent in 1999. Will the growing number of home-schooled students and the increasing popularity of online courses develop to the point at which virtual universities become an appealing alternative to the residential college experience for a significant percentage of students?

• As more institutions seek charter or enterprise status whereby they agree to meet certain accountability requirements in exchange for freedom from some governmental restrictions, how might their image and functionality change? Is access likely to increase? To what extent will they be viewed less as agents of the state and more as independent contractors?

• If charter or for-profit institutions are able to demonstrate that they can successfully produce similar or better outcomes in terms of student learning and research productivity than traditional public universities, are we likely to see other institutional types-community colleges, for example-becoming more like them?

Predictions aside, in the twenty-first century American higher education is the nation's premier industry. By any measure, most of the world's top universities are in the United States, which is the preferred destination for foreign students; American universities educate 30 percent of the total number of students who cross borders for advanced training. Furthermore, since September 11, 2001, more of them have developed overseas programs to serve international students who are unable to obtain student visas. Other rapidly developing nations such as China and India, even Dubai and Qatar, are opening new institutions, and Australia has been particularly aggressive in developing overseas programs, but it will be many decades before they can expect to attain world-class status.

American higher education's status, both at home and abroad, is secured by its traditional value and power. Perhaps most important now is its ability to adapt to changing conditions. No one knows what higher education will look like in coming years. The only certainty is that an open system will continue experimenting with forms and content, learning and revising as it goes, even while retaining the strengths it has developed over the past 375 years. The American people deserve no less from institutions that are part of the fabric of their society and manifestations of the nation's self.



Schuster, J. H., and Finkelstein, M. J. The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

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