This post contains all of the material for the class on the History of Higher Education in the US that I taught for at the Stanford Graduate School of Education for the last 15 years. In retirement I wanted to make the course available on the internet to anyone who is interested. If you are a college teacher, feel free to use any of it in whole or part. If you are a student or a group of students, you can work your way through the class on your own at your own pace. Any benefits that accrue are purely intrinsic, since no one will get college credits. But that also means you’re free to pursue the parts of the class that you want and you don’t have any requirements or papers. How great is that.
I’m posting the full syllabus below. But it would be more useful to get it as a Word document through this link. Feel free to share it with anyone you like.
All of the course materials except three required books are embedded in the syllabus through hyperlinks to a Google drive. For each week, the syllabus includes a link to tips for approaching the readings, links to the PDFs of the readings, and a link to the slides for that week’s class. Slides also include links to additional sources. So the syllabus is all that is needed to gain access to the full class.
I hope you find this useful.
History of Higher Education in the U.S.
A 10-Week Class
This course provides an introductory overview of the history of higher education in the United States. We will start with Perkin’s account of the world history of the university, and two chapters from my book about the role of the market in shaping the history of American higher education and the pressure from consumers to have college provide both social access and social advantage. In week two, we examine an overview of the history of American college and university in the 18th and 19th centuries from John Thelin, and my chapter on the emerging nature of the college system. In week three, we focus on the rise of the university in the latter part of the 19th century using two more chapters from Thelin, and my own chapter on the subject. In week four, we read a series of papers around the issue of access to higher education, showing how colleges for many years sought to repel or redirect the college aspirations of women, blacks, and Jews. In week five, we examine the history of professional education, with special attention to schools of business, education, and medicine. In week six, we read several chapters from Donald Levine’s book about the rise of mass higher education after World War I, my piece about the rise of community colleges, and more from Thelin. In week seven, we look at the surge of higher ed enrollments after World War II, drawing on pieces by Rebecca Lowen, Roger Geiger, Thelin, and Labaree. In week eight, we look at the broadly accessible full-service regional state university, drawing on Alden Dunham, Thelin, Lohmann, and my chapter on the relationship between the public and private sector. In week nine, we read a selection of chapters from Jerome Karabel’s book about the struggle by elite universities to stay on top of a dynamic and expanding system of higher education. And in week 10, we step back and try to get a fix on the evolved nature of the American system of higher education, drawing on work by Mitchell Stevens and the concluding chapters of my book.
Like every course, this one is not a neutral survey of all possible perspectives on the domain identified by the course title; like every course, this one has a point of view. This point of view comes through in my book manuscript that we’ll be reading in the course. Let me give you an idea of the kind of approach I will be taking.
The American system of higher education is an anomaly. In the twentieth century it surged past its European forebears to become the dominant system in the world – with more money, talent, scholarly esteem, and institutional influence than any of the systems that served as its models. By all rights, this never should have happened. Its origins were remarkably humble: a loose assortment of parochial nineteenth-century liberal-arts colleges, which emerged in the pursuit of sectarian expansion and civic boosterism more than scholarly distinction. These colleges had no academic credibility, no reliable source of students, and no steady funding. Yet these weaknesses of the American system in the nineteenth century turned out to be strengths in the twentieth. In the absence of strong funding and central control, individual colleges had to learn how to survive and thrive in a highly competitive market, in which they needed to rely on student tuition and alumni donations and had to develop a mode of governance that would position them to pursue any opportunity and cultivate any source of patronage. As a result, American colleges developed into an emergent system of higher education that was lean, adaptable, autonomous, consumer-sensitive, self-supporting, and radically decentralized. This put the system in a strong position to expand and prosper when, before the turn of the twentieth century, it finally got what it was most grievously lacking: a surge of academic credibility (when it assumed the mantle of scientific research) and a surge of student enrollments (when it became the pipeline to the middle class). This course is an effort to understand how a system that started out so badly turned out so well – and how its apparently unworkable structure is precisely what makes the system work.
That’s an overview of the kind of argument I will be making about the history of higher education. But you should feel free to construct your own, rejecting mine in part or in whole. The point of this class, like any class, is to encourage you to try on a variety of perspectives as part of the process of developing your own working conceptual framework for understanding the world. I hope you will enjoy the ride.
Books: We will be reading the following books:
Thelin, John R. (2011). A history of American higher education, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Labaree, David F. (2017). A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Karabel, Jerome. (2005). The chosen: The hidden history of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Supplementary Resources: There is a terrific online archive of primary and secondary readings on higher education, which is a supplement to The History of Higher Education, 3rd ed., published by the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE): http://www.pearsoncustom.com/mi/msu_ashe/.
Below are the topics we will cover, week by week, with the readings for each week.
Introduction to course
Tips for week 1 readings
Labaree, David F. (2015). A system without a plan: Elements of the American model of higher education. Chapter 1 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education.
Labaree, David F. (2015). Balancing access and advantage. Chapter 5 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education,
Perkin, Harold. (1997). History of universities. In Lester F. Goodchild and Harold S. Wechsler (Eds.), ASHE reader on the history of higher education, 2nd ed. (pp. 3-32). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Class slides for week 1
Overview of the Early History of Higher Education in the U.S.
Tips for week 2 readings
Thelin, John R. (2011). A history of American higher education, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (introductory essay and chapters 1-3).
Labaree, David F. (2015). Unpromising roots: The ragtag college system in the nineteenth century. Chapter 2 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education.
Class slides for week 2
Roots of the Growth of the University in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century
Tips for week 3 readings
Thelin, John R. (2011). A history of American higher education, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (chapters 4-5).
Labaree, David F. (2015). Adding the pinnacle and keeping the base: The graduate school crowns the system, 1880-1910. Chapter 3 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education,
Labaree, David F. (1995). Foreword (to book by Brown, David K. (1995). Degrees of control: A sociology of educational expansion and occupational credentialism. New York: Teachers College Press).
Class slides for week 3
Educating and Not Educating the Other: Blacks, Women, and Jews
Tips for week 4 readings
Wechsler, Harold S. (1997). An academic Gresham’s law: Group repulsion as a theme in American higher education. In Lester F. Goodchild and Harold S. Wechsler (Eds.), ASHE reader on the history of higher education, 2nd ed. (pp. 416-431). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Anderson, James D. (1997). Training the apostles of liberal culture: Black higher education, 1900-1935. In Lester F. Goodchild and Harold S. Wechsler (Eds.), ASHE reader on the history of higher education, 2nd ed. (pp. 432-458). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Gordon, Lynn D. (1997). From seminary to university: An overview of women’s higher education, 1870-1920. In Lester F. Goodchild and Harold S. Wechsler (Eds.), ASHE reader on the history of higher education, 2nd ed. (pp. 473-498). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Class slides for week 4
History of Professional Education
Tips for week 5 readings
Brubacher, John S. and Rudy, Willis. (1997). Professional education. In Lester F. Goodchild and Harold S. Wechsler (Eds.), ASHE reader on the history of higher education, 2nd ed. (pp. 379-393). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Bledstein, Burton J. (1976). The culture of professionalism. In The culture of professionalism: The middle class and the development of higher education in America (pp. 80-128). New York: W. W. Norton.
Labaree, David F. (2015). Mutual subversion: The liberal and the professional. Chapter 4 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education,
Class slides for week 5
Emergence of Mass Higher Education
Tips for week 6 readings
Thelin, John R. (2011). A history of American higher education, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (chapter 6).
Labaree, David F. (1997). The rise of the community college: Markets and the limits of educational opportunity. In How to succeed in school without really learning: The credentials race in American education (chapter 8, pp. 190-222). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Class slides for week 6
The Huge Surge of Higher Education Expansion after World War II
Tips for week 7 readings
Thelin, John R. (2011). A history of American higher education, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (chapter 7).
Geiger, Roger. (2004). University advancement from the postwar era to the 1960s. In Research and relevant knowledge: American research universities since World War II (chapter 5, pp. 117-156). Read the first half of the chapter, which focuses on the rise of Stanford.
Labaree, David F. (2015). Learning to love the bomb: America’s brief cold-war fling with the university as a public good. Chapter 7 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education.
Class slides for week 7
Populist, Practical, and Elite: The Diversity and Evolved Institutional Character of the Full-Service American University
Tips for week 8 readings
Thelin, John R. (2011). A history of American higher education, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (chapter 8).
Labaree, David F. (2015). Private advantage, public impact. Chapter 6 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education.
Class slides for week 8
The Struggle by Elite Universities to Stay on Top
Tips for week 9 readings
Karabel, Jerome. (2005). The chosen: The hidden history of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Read introduction and chapters 2, 4, 9, 12, 13, 17, and 18.
Class slides for week 9
Conclusions about the American System of Higher Education
Tips for week 10 readings
Stevens, Mitchell L., Armstrong, Elizabeth A., & Arum, Richard. (2008). Sieve, incubator, temple, hub: Empirical and theoretical advances in the sociology of higher education. Annual Review of Sociology, 34 (127-151).
Labaree, David F. (2015). Upstairs, downstairs: Relations between the tiers of the system. Chapter 8 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education,
Labaree, David F. (2015). A perfect mess. Chapter 9 in A perfect mess: The unlikely ascendancy of American higher education.
Class slides for week 10
Guidelines for Critical Reading
Whenever you set out to do a critical reading of a particular text (a book, article, speech, proposal, conference paper), you need to use the following questions as a framework to guide you as you read:
- What’s the point? This is the analysis/interpretation issue: what is the author’s angle?
- What’s new? This is the value-added issue: What does the author contribute that we don’t already know?
- Who says? This is the validity issue: On what (data, literature) are the claims based?
- Who cares? This is the significance issue, the most important issue of all, the one that subsumes all the others: Is this work worth doing? Is the text worth reading? Does it contribute something important?
Guidelines for Analytical Writing
In writing papers for this (or any) course, keep in mind the following points. They apply in particular to the longer papers, but most of the same concerns apply to critical reaction papers as well.
- Pick an important issue: Make sure that your analysis meets the “so what” test. Why should anyone care about this topic, anyway? Pick an issue or issues that matters and that you really care about.
- Keep focused: Don’t lose track of the point you are trying to make and make sure the reader knows where you are heading and why.
- Aim for clarity: Don’t assume that the reader knows what you’re talking about; it’s your job to make your points clearly. In part this means keeping focused and avoiding distracting clutter. But in part it means that you need to make more than elliptical references to concepts and sources or to professional experience. When referring to readings (from the course or elsewhere), explain who said what and why this point is pertinent to the issue at hand. When drawing on your own experiences or observations, set the context so the reader can understand what you mean. Proceed as though you were writing for an educated person who is neither a member of this class nor a professional colleague, someone who has not read the material you are referring to.
- Provide analysis: A good paper is more than a catalogue of facts, concepts, experiences, or references; it is more than a description of the content of a set of readings; it is more than an expression of your educational values or an announcement of your prescription for what ails education. A good paper is a logical and coherent analysis of the issues raised within your chosen area of focus. This means that your paper should aim to explain rather than describe. If you give examples, be sure to tell the reader what they mean in the context of your analysis. Make sure the reader understands the connection between the various points in your paper.
- Provide depth, insight, and connections: The best papers are ones that go beyond making obvious points, superficial comparisons, and simplistic assertions. They dig below the surface of the issue at hand, demonstrating a deeper level of understanding and an ability to make interesting connections.
- Support your analysis with evidence: You need to do more than simply state your ideas, however informed and useful these may be. You also need to provide evidence that reassures the reader that you know what you are talking about, thus providing a foundation for your argument. Evidence comes in part from the academic literature, whether encountered in this course or elsewhere. Evidence can also come from your own experience. Remember that you are trying to accomplish two things with the use of evidence. First, you are saying that it is not just you making this assertion but that authoritative sources and solid evidence back you up. Second, you are supplying a degree of specificity and detail, which helps to flesh out an otherwise skeletal argument.
- Draw on course materials (this applies primarily to reaction papers, not the final paper). Your paper should give evidence that you are taking this course. You do not need to agree with any of the readings or presentations, but your paper should show you have considered the course materials thoughtfully.
- Recognize complexity and acknowledge multiple viewpoints. The issues in the history of American education are not simple, and your paper should not propose simple solutions to complex problems. It should not reduce issues to either/or, black/white, good/bad. Your paper should give evidence that you understand and appreciate more than one perspective on an issue. This does not mean you should be wishy-washy. Instead, you should aim to make a clear point by showing that you have considered alternate views.
- Challenge assumptions. The paper should show that you have learned something by doing this paper. There should be evidence that you have been open to changing your mind.
- Do not overuse quotation: In a short paper, long quotations (more than a sentence or two in length) are generally not appropriate. Even in longer papers, quotations should be used sparingly unless they constitute a primary form of data for your analysis. In general, your paper is more effective if written primarily in your own words, using ideas from the literature but framing them in your own way in order to serve your own analytical purposes. However, selective use of quotations can be very useful as a way of capturing the author’s tone or conveying a particularly aptly phrased point.
- Cite your sources: You need to identify for the reader where particular ideas or examples come from. This can be done through in-text citation: Give the author’s last name, publication year, and (in the case of quotations) page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence or paragraph where the idea is presented — e.g., (Kliebard, 1986, p. 22); provide the full citations in a list of references at the end of the paper. You can also identify sources with footnotes or endnotes: Give the full citation for the first reference to a text and a short citation for subsequent citations to the same text. (For critical reaction papers, you only need to give the short cite for items from the course reading; other sources require full citations.) Note that citing a source is not sufficient to fulfill the requirement to provide evidence for your argument. As spelled out in #6 above, you need to transmit to the reader some of the substance of what appears in the source cited, so the reader can understand the connection with the point you are making and can have some meat to chew on. The best analytical writing provides a real feel for the material and not just a list of assertions and citations. Depth, insight, and connections count for more than a superficial collection of glancing references. In other words, don’t just mention an array of sources without drawing substantive points and examples from these sources; and don’t draw on ideas from such sources without identifying the ones you used.
- Take care in the quality of your prose: A paper that is written in a clear and effective style makes a more convincing argument than one written in a murky manner, even when both writers start with the same basic understanding of the issues. However, writing that is confusing usually signals confusion in a person’s thinking. After all, one key purpose of writing is to put down your ideas in a way that permits you and others to reflect on them critically, to see if they stand up to analysis. So you should take the time to reflect on your own ideas on paper and revise them as needed. You may want to take advantage of the opportunity in this course to submit a draft of the final paper, revise it in light of comments, and then resubmit the revised version. This, after all, is the way writers normally proceed. Outside of the artificial world of the classroom, writers never turn in their first draft as their final statement on a subject.