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Howard Bowen (1908–1989)

Economist Howard Bowen was a notable figure in university administration and the author of several classic works on the economics of higher education. Born in Spokane, Washington, he married Lois B. Schilling of Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1935; they had two sons. Bowen earned his B.A. in 1929 and his M.A. in 1933 from Washington State University. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa in 1935 and pursued postdoctoral study at the University of Cambridge, England, and the London School of Economics from 1937 to 1939.

After teaching economics at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1942, Bowen took a position as the chief economist at Irving Trust Company from 1942 to 1945, and then held the position of chief economist, Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation, U.S. Congress (1945 to 1947). Yet he recalled his experience at the University of Iowa with the most pleasure, and he decided to return to university teaching and research. He accepted an appointment as dean of the College of Commerce in 1947 at the University of Illinois. There he was instrumental in substantially improving the programs in the college, although at considerable political cost. Senior professors resisted the curricular and faculty changes that Bowen implemented, and he had to resign his position in 1952.

Unwilling to leave higher education, he took a position as a professor of economics at Williams College in Massachusetts. Bowen found the life there to be enriching, with well-prepared students and well-qualified faculty members. Yet he preferred administration to teaching, and in 1955 he accepted the presidency of Grinnell College in Iowa, where he was able to increase enrollment, the quality of students and of the faculty, and the endowment, helping to elevate the college to national stature. Bowen remained there until 1964 when he became president of State University of Iowa, a position he held until 1969. While president he convinced the legislature and governor to change the institution's name to the University of Iowa. The late 1960s was a turbulent period in United States higher education, with many student demonstrations over such issues as the war in Vietnam and racism. Bowen made the decision to use local and state police officers to quell demonstrations, a decision he later reflected upon as difficult but necessary. He also tried to maintain a dialogue with protesting students, even inviting them into his home for discussion.

Bowen oversaw a great deal of growth in enrollment, facilities, and the budget in his years as president of the University of Iowa. Nevertheless, approaching the end of his career, he realized that he did not want to spend more than five years in the position. He and his wife moved to California, where he returned to teaching and research, as professor of economics at Claremont Graduate School, a position which he held, however, for only one year (1969–1970).

In the spring of 1970 the president of Claremont University Center resigned, and the governing board asked Bowen to serve as acting president for one year. Discussions about the reorganization of Claremont University Center, a very decentralized group of institutions, led to his appointment as chancellor of the center from 1971 to 1974. In 1973, frustrated by the challenges of a decentralized university, he requested and received a half-time release from his duties as chancellor, and returned to full-time faculty status in 1974.

Bowen finished his career as the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Economics and Education, Claremont Graduate School, holding that position from 1974 to 1984. He decided that his experience in education combined with his administrative expertise offered an important vantage point, and he published three important works, Investment in Learning, the Costs of Higher Education, and American Professors: A National Resource Imperiled (coauthored with Jack Schuster).

Bowen argued in his works that the economics of higher education centered not on profit motives, but rather on prestige and increasing the quality of students' educational experience. He also stressed that society and individuals benefited from higher education far more in terms of non-monetary issues such as emotional development, citizenship, and equality than in financial returns. As a result, Bowen contended, higher education ought to be based on social and individual considerations and not simply on the basis of efficiency and accountability.

Bowen held membership in several economics, finance, and education associations, including the National Academy of Education and the American Economic Association. He was president of the American Finance Association (1950), the American Association for Higher Education (1975), the Western Economic Association (1977), and the Association for the Study of Higher Education (1980). He was also the recipient of awards from the National Council of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, the Council of Independent Colleges, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Association for Institutional Research, and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. His works on the economics of higher education, assessing both the financial and nonfinancial returns on higher education for individuals and the society at large, remain classics. He also identified how colleges and universities sought to raise more money in order to spend more money, rather than seeking ways of efficiently using their income. His coauthored work on the professoriate, although highly controversial for its prediction that there would be a shortage of well-qualified professors by the mid-1990s, nevertheless captured a deep sense of unease within the academic profession.


BOWEN, HOWARD. 1977. Investment in Learning: The Individual and Social Value of American Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

BOWEN, HOWARD. 1980. The Costs of Higher Education: How Much Do Colleges and Universities Spend Per Student and How Much Should They Spend? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

BOWEN, HOWARD. 1988. Academic Recollections. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

BOWEN, HOWARD, and SCHUSTER, JACK. 1986. American Professors: A National Resource Imperiled. New York: Oxford University Press.


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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia: AACSB International - Program to Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)