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United States

Higher Education


General Survey: In 1636, in the Massachusetts Bay town of Cambridge (then known as Newtowne), the first college in the New World opened. The college acquired the name of Harvard two years later, after minister John Harvard bequeathed some of his modest wealth to the college. Many Harvard College students planned to enter the ministry following graduation, but in time the wealthy sons of planters and merchants also opted for educations. Those who were admitted first had to demonstrate proficiency in Latin, Greek, and scripture. The school attempted to gain a reputation for excellence similar to the great English schools of Cambridge and Oxford.

Early educators at Harvard revered the ancient civilizations, and it was the ancient languages of Latin and Greek and the ancient intellectual subjects of logic, geometry, rhetoric, and so on that were the focus of minister training at early Harvard. For the ministers-to-be, Aristotle's teachings and Christian teachings both belonged in their classrooms. In other words, what had been revered in the classrooms of the medieval schools of Europe was quite similar to what was taught in the first colonial college at Harvard.

Unfortunately, the worst feudal practices of Europe also crossed the ocean into Massachusetts, likely brought there by the first scholars or by students that had studies in England first. Older students demanded acts of servitude similar to what was termed "fagging" in English universities. In time, even worse student practices such as paddling, corporal beatings, verbal abuse, humiliation, and degrading acts were part of college life in America, and these became known under the general name of "hazing." Such practices were readily accepted in a wilderness college where pranks and other rough jokes at the expense of greenhorns were an accepted part of life on the frontiers.

Authorities failed to share the student enthusiasm for hazing, imposing fines for hazing newcomers in 1657 and expelling a student for the practice in 1684. In the nineteenth century, the practice grew so out of hand that colleges such as Amherst, Yale, and Cornell suffered the ignominy of student-initiation deaths, and a speaker at Harvard denounced hazing as "a weed in the garden of academe." The "weed" continues to be a problem in the twenty-first century, as hazing deaths continue to occur among newcomers to college, many of them seeking membership into college fraternities.

On the other hand, many administrators, professors, and student scholars viewed learning as a sacred responsibility at Harvard College, and they regarded the acquisition of learning with the same serious outlook that the Puritans possessed toward religion. In time, Harvard became the model for much of what educators were trying to accomplish in the American colonies in terms of scholarship and the graduation of young men with character. At the time, no girl was admitted to Harvard. As was the case in the common schools, most learning was accomplished in the form of recitations, and students with a mind for reading and retaining long blocks of Latin text were assured success as scholars. Learning took patience, endurance, and rhetorical skills. The curriculum was fixed, and changing any part of that curriculum was sure to involve faculty members in debate for months or years.

In part because of the status of early scholars at Harvard with Oxford connections, and in part because the other colonies were so slow to establish a competing college, New England established a dominance in the field of higher education that has persisted into the twenty-first century. It took many years for other Eastern cities to establish their own centers of learning. As Benjamin Franklin's aforementioned Academy grew, the institution became known as the College of Pennsylvania, receiving its formal charter in 1755. The College of Pennsylvania, after the American Revolution, changed its name by charter in 1779 to the University of the State of Pennsylvania (shortening it to the University of Pennsylvania in 1791). The first college in New York, King's College (later Columbia University), had British ties and was started only a few years prior to the Revolutionary War.

One measure of the relatively small degree of emphasis on a college education at this time is the fact that combined enrollment at the nine American colleges in the early 1770s was a mere 750 students. That number would not grow greatly in the next three decades. While a few early leaders of the United States, most notably Thomas Jefferson, possessed strong ideals and beliefs regarding education, much of the country's energies were focused on the formation of political alliances, industry building, and preparations for defense pending another inevitable war with England.

In the first decade of the nineteenth century, exploration gave way to the founding of settlements and commerce was spreading. The need for educated citizens and ministers created a great need for colleges, not only in an ever-growing number of American cities, but even in then-western, wilderness communities such as Miami, Ohio, where plans for a college were made mere days after statehood was granted in 1803.

After a brief period of stagnation, the years after the Civil War saw efforts to increase not only the number of colleges but also the number of students afforded the opportunity of higher education. Such expansion was not surprising in a country possessing equal regard for commerce, democratic ideals, the celebration of community creation, and the unreachable quest for perfection in the nature of mankind.

Overall, collegiate enrollment continued to increase steadily by 1918 to about a half million students, as the U.S. population numbered more than 100 million people. Many colleges, particularly small schools with small endowments, entered into a crisis period during the Great Depression as enrollments in college fell drastically. Colleges began to recover in the late 1930s, but World War II once again interfered with the growth of schools, although some institutions were spared disaster when the government selected many campuses for miscellaneous course preparation of enlisted persons.

Following the war, liberal arts colleges often found themselves broadening their curriculum to reflect the national interest in majors related to mathematics and science, or they continued their curriculums and found new ways to compete for enrollment with schools that emphasized the math and science courses that industry and business demanded of new hires. Veterans returning to the classroom after hostilities ended in the mid-1940s tended to gravitate toward college programs that guaranteed them more security in the job market.

As universities themselves acquired more prestige, it became impossible for capable men and women to become dentists, lawyers, and so on without university degrees, as had been the case during much of the nineteenth century. Students seeking status themselves began to compete for entry into the schools perceived to be the best in the land. Where for many years essentially anyone with a diploma from a recognized high school could enter most institutions of higher learning, during the twentieth century increasingly tightened admission standards developed as the best and brightest students competed for a place in Ivy League and prestigious state universities.

As universities themselves set out to hire the best available faculty and to build state-of-the-art facilities, the costs of operating a university spiraled upward, as did the cost of tuition to partially pay for the skyrocketing expenses. In time, where colleges once searched for presidents with the best academic credentials and publication records, many schools began to look for candidates with slightly less stunning vitas who showed they possessed fundraising and management skills comparable to the best chief operating officers in private corporations.


Racial Minorities & Women: Segregation was a painful reality in many Southern institutions during the nineteenth century, in some cases even into the second half of the twentieth century. Not until 1826 did a college award a degree to a black in the United States. One of the few colleges to pursue opportunities for black students was Unitarian-sponsored Antioch College in Ohio, where Horace Mann served as president from 1853 until his death in 1859. The first college to establish a permanent institution for the higher education of black Americans was Hampton Institute in 1870, and it also encouraged Native Americans to attend.

Individuals such as W.E.B. DuBois and organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up the battle against the hypocrisy of separate but equal facilities. In time, there were quiet victories, including the 1950 admission of an African-American into the University of Texas law school following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sweatt v. Painter. At Indiana University's School of Dentistry, African-Americans worked quietly behind the scenes to persuade faculty members and the dean to allow them to treat Caucasian patients in dental clinics, eliminating an unwritten policy that saw African-American dental students working only on the teeth of dental students. Overall, however, ignorance and resistance on the part of many universities blocked the path of African-Americans who desired professional and advanced degrees.

In 1973, a minuscule 2,500 Ph.D. and Ed.D degrees were awarded to African-Americans in every discipline combined. By 1998, according to the federally directed Survey of Earned Doctorates Report released by the University of Chicago, the number of doctorates earned by U.S. citizens of racial or ethnic minority groups was 14.7 percent of the total doctorates awarded, the highest percentage overall in history. Among the 97 percent of U.S. respondents who identified race/ethnicity, African-Americans earned 1,467 doctorates; Hispanics, 1,190; Asians (including Pacific Islanders), 1,168; and American Indians (including Alaskan Natives), 189. In disciplines, African-Americans received the highest number of doctorates in education, according to the report.

Other than the training school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (a target of frequent criticism by Indian leaders), between 1879 and 1918 the U.S. government, states, and religious organizations alike failed to provide an collegiate for the higher education of Native Americans. According to Morison, the United States failed to take any significant steps toward the preservation of Native American culture and the higher educational needs of Indian youth until the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934.

As of 2001, a number of higher education facilities existed to serve the needs of Native American students. These include Bay Mills Community College in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Cankdeska Cikana Community College (Little Hoop Community College) in North Dakota, Little Priest Tribal College in Nebraska, and 32 other schools of higher learning on Indian lands. In addition to the curriculum that is found at non-Indian colleges, these schools for Native Americans focus on languages that might otherwise be lost, tribal customs, and Native American history. The federal government's Executive Order No. 13021 on Tribal Colleges and Universities ensures educational opportunities through the federal government and contributes to the status as accredited higher education institutions. In 2001, the tribal colleges were asking the federal government to renew and strengthen its programs for tribal colleges and universities.

Women's higher education in America began with the founding of Mount Holyoke Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1837. The school's founder and visionary, Mary Lyon, immeasurably advanced the cause of equal opportunities for women with the college's founding, and opened the doors for other women's colleges to follow. Chief among these schools were Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe, Sarah Lawrence, and Bennington.

Without question, the national movement for women's rights, particularly beginning in the 1960s, brought a tremendous number of women into graduate schools as students. The Digest of Educational Statistics reports that the enrollment of female students led to greatly increased total enrollments between 1985 and 1995. During that decade, while male enrollment only increased 9 percent, but female enrollment exploded by 23 percent.


Enrollment: Total college enrollment dropped from 14.5 million students in 1992 to 14.3 million in 1995. Increases are expected in college enrollment through 2005, however, reflecting increases in the number of high school students enrolled during the last half of the 1990s, as well as a slight increase in the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds that attends college. For example, in the 20- to 24-year-old group, a remarkable one-third enrolled in college in 1998, up from 26 percent in 1988.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1999 found that 1.8 million students, or 63 percent of almost 2.9 million high school graduates, went directly to college. Of that total, 1.2 million enrolled in four-year schools, while slightly more than 600,000 chose two-year technical colleges and community colleges. Nearly the same number of male and female high school graduates went to college directly from high school, with women slightly in the majority (917,000 compared to 905,000).

The BLS reported a decline from 1997, in which 67 percent of that year's graduates enrolled in colleges. However, as was true of private K-12 schools, enrollment in private colleges remained constant from 1989 to 1999, at 22 percent of all students that attended college. In 1999, that meant 3.3 million students were enrolled in private colleges. The high numbers of young Americans in college reflect society's emphasis on the importance of higher education and a high school diploma alike. With regard to graduate education, the numbers enrolled also increased steadily during the twentieth century. Among students attending graduate school part-time, enrollment rose from 1985 to 1995 by 19 percent, and full-time student enrollment increased 15 percent over the same time period, according to The Digest of Educational Statistics. The same journal noted that in 1980, approximately 69 percent of the population aged 25 and older had completed high school; that number soared to 83 percent by 1998. Similarly, while 17 percent of the population aged 25 and older had completed 4 years of college in 1980, that figure rose to 24 percent by 1998.

In 1998, about 5 percent of the total U.S. population that was at least 25-years-old held a master's degree as their highest degree. Approximately one percent held a professional degree (e.g., medicine or law). In addition, another one percent had earned a doctoral degree, such as a Doctor of Arts, a Doctor of Philosophy, or a Doctor of Education.


Advanced Degrees: During the first half of the nineteenth century, scholars discussed the need for Ph.D. programs, but the universities themselves dragged their heels. What advanced study that did occur at Harvard and elsewhere was often limited to theology. Although master's degrees had been awarded at Harvard ever since the seventeenth century, the first doctoral degrees were not conferred until Yale College's Sheffield Scientific School did so in 1861, awarding the terminal degrees to candidates in philosophy and classical languages. Prior to 1861, scholars wishing to obtain a graduate degree similar to those conferred upon scholars in Germany had to endure the expense and inconvenience of studying in Europe. Those who simply wanted to exercise their minds found such communities of the mind as Benjamin Franklin's American Philosophical Society to be their intellectual oases outside of academe.

Because the conferring of Ph.D. degrees raised the prestige of a college, a national trend developed late in the nineteenth century to upgrade the status of many colleges to universities. More than simply a name change, institutions that took the more prestigious "university" label had certain minimum criteria to meet, as defined by the National Association of State Universities: undergraduates who had obtained high school diplomas, four years of college work divided evenly between general and specialized coursework, at least five departments qualified to confer Ph.D.s, and one or more "schools" (a term similarly upgraded from "department") conferring professional degrees and conducting significant research in such areas as agriculture, medicine, and law. Many institutions after 1890 either met these minimum standards for university status or set out to meet the criteria in decades to come.

At first a few prestigious institutions, such as Princeton, declared that they preferred to stay small and do what they already did well, but schools that developed large research programs and instituted professional schools tended to benefit significantly in terms of school size, prestige, and ability to attract topnotch faculty, causing the institutions that resisted eventually to opt for expansion like other well-known schools had done. As universities expanded the number of Ph.D. offerings, senior faculty commonly were known as an institution's "graduate faculty," and over the years many faculty committee hours would be spent debating how much time graduate faculty should spend teaching undergraduates, aside from graduate teaching and research.


Teaching Colleges: Scholars in universities—out of misogyny or paternalism—exhibited a snobbish attitude toward the training of teachers, since most were women. Not until 1879 did the University of Michigan establish a chair in education, a a precursor to modern schools and departments of education at many prestigious institutions of higher learning. Two other prominent exceptions that established formal higher education programs for teachers in the late nineteenth century were Washington College in Pennsylvania and New York University, the latter the first to offer a graduate degree for teachers in 1887.

Some universities that attempted to put teacher education into the curriculum were unable to do so until the last decade of the nineteenth century because of hostile trustees at prestigious institutions. In 1892, after a decade spent trying to gain trustee support, educator Nicholas Murray Butler succeeded in founding the New York College for the Training of Teachers in affiliation with Columbia University. Eventually, the Teachers College, Columbia University, became known for being in the vanguard of changes in the teaching profession, including the establishment of a sort-of laboratory school called the Lincoln School by 1916.

Earlier, New York had seen the state normal school at Oswego attempt to improve instruction for teachers. Oswego incorporated teaching innovations in the 1860s that had been advocated by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827). Pestalozzi was a Swiss reformer who pioneered the use of objects in the elementary classroom to provide tactile benefits for children, which he said enhanced learning far more than did mere rote recitation.


Junior Colleges: Another important American addition to education was the concept of the junior college. These were created early in the twentieth century, the innovation of several university presidents who thought these two-year schools would free university scholars for teaching more sophisticated juniors and seniors. The idea was slow to catch on. By 1922, only 207 such schools existed. But in time, their influence spread, with 1,036 listed by the Department of Education in 1995.


International Students: The country with the largest number of international students is the United States. The 1999-2000 academic year found 514,723 foreign students enrolled in studies at colleges and universities in the United States, a 5 percent increase from 1998-1999. International students made up about 3.8 percent of total enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities. These students accounted for the expenditure of $12.3 billion.

Foreign students come to the United States in the greatest numbers from China and Japan; Asia, therefore, is the continent that sends the most foreign students to U.S. colleges and universities, representing 54 percent of the total. California, New York, and Texas attracted the most students from other countries, with 66,305; 55,085; and 35,860 international students, respectively.

International students in the United States prefer to study business and management (20 percent of the total), engineering (15 percent), and mathematics and computer sciences (19 percent). Computer study is likely to surpass business and management in popularity in future surveys of international students.

The number of international students studying in the United States is higher than the total of U.S. students studying abroad, according to 1999-2000 figures. However, the 129,770 U.S. students that studied at colleges and universities outside the U.S. represent an increase of 13.9 percent from 1998-1999. The most popular study destination for U.S. students was the United Kingdom.


Tuition: By the year 2000, tuition at both public and private colleges continued to increase faster than the rate of inflation, although not at the rate of the sharp increases that began in the 1980s and continued into the early 1990s, according to a College Board survey of more than 3,000 schools. Tuition and fees for U.S. private institutions of higher education rose 5.2 percent in 2000, as compared to a 4.4 percent hike posted by public colleges. Average fall tuition and fees at four-year public schools were posted at $3,510 in 2000, while private schools charged $16,332 for tuition and fees, according to the survey.


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