History of higher education in the United States
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The history of higher education in the United States begins with Harvard College and continues to the present time. For recent trends see the article Higher education in the United States.
- 1 Colonial era
- 2 Nineteenth century
- 3 Twentieth century
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 Further reading
Religious denominations established most early colleges in order to train ministers. They were modeled after Oxford and Cambridge universities in England, as well as Scottish universities. Harvard College was founded by the Massachusetts Bay colonial legislature in 1636, and named after an early benefactor. Most of the funding came from the colony, but the colleges began to collect endowments early on. Harvard first focused on training young men for the ministry, and won general support from the Puritan government, some of whose leaders had attended either Oxford or Cambridge. The College of William & Mary was founded by the Virginia government in 1693, with 20,000 acres (81 km2) of land for an endowment, and a penny tax on every pound of tobacco, together with an annual appropriation. James Blair, the leading Church of England minister in the colony, was president for 50 years, and the college won the broad support of the Virginia gentry. It trained many of the lawyers, politicians, and leading planters at the time. Yale College was founded in 1701, and in 1716 was relocated to New Haven, Connecticut. The conservative Puritan ministers of Connecticut had grown dissatisfied with the more liberal theology of Harvard, and wanted their own school to train orthodox ministers.
New Light Presbyterians in 1747 set up the College of New Jersey, in the town of Princeton; it was later renamed Princeton University in 1896. In New York City, the Church of England set up King's College by royal charter in 1746, with its president Doctor Samuel Johnson the only teacher. Following the American Revolutionary War, the tory administration of the college was overthrown and it was renamed Columbia College in 1784. Rhode Island College was founded by Baptists in 1764, and in 1804 it was renamed Brown University in honor of a benefactor. Brown was especially liberal in welcoming young men from other denominations. The Academy of Pennsylvania, a secondary school, was founded in 1749 by Benjamin Franklin and other civic minded leaders in Philadelphia. In 1755, it received its charter, was renamed College of Philadelphia, and was converted into an institution of higher education. Unlike the other universities, it was not oriented towards the training of ministers. It was renamed the University of Pennsylvania in 1791. The Dutch Reformed Church in 1766 set up Queen's College in New Jersey, which later became Rutgers University. Dartmouth College, chartered in 1769, moved to its present site in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1770.
Most Protestant, as well as Catholic, denominations opened small colleges in the nineteenth century, mostly after 1850. Nearly all taught in the English language, although there were a few German language seminaries and colleges.
While colleges were springing up across the Northeast, there was little competition on the western frontier for Transylvania University, founded in Lexington, Kentucky in 1780. In addition to its undergraduate program, it boasted law and medical programs. It attracted politically ambitious young men from across the Southwest including 50 who became United States senators, 101 congressmen, 36 governors and 34 ambassadors, as well as Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. Many of the colleges started at this time were funded by churches and denominations, instructing pastors and teachers. It wasn't until the Morrill Land-Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890 that public colleges and universities were started in the Midwest, including many of the first public HBCU's 
All the schools were small, with a limited undergraduate curriculum based on the liberal arts. Students were drilled in Greek, Latin, geometry, ancient history, logic, ethics and rhetoric, with few discussions and no lab sessions. Originality and creativity were not prized, but exact repetition was rewarded. The college president typically enforced strict discipline, and the upperclassman enjoyed hazing the freshman. Many students were younger than 17, and most of the colleges concurrently operated a preparatory school. There were no organized sports or Greek-letter fraternities, but literary societies were active. Tuition was very low and scholarships were few. Many of the students were sons of clergymen; most planned professional careers as ministers, lawyers or teachers.
By the 1820s there was a growing demand to replace Greek and Latin with modern languages, as had been proposed by Jeffersonians at the University of Virginia and the newly opened University of the City of New York. The Yale Report of 1828 was a defense of the Latin and Greek curriculum. It called to maintain traditions, especially against the forceful reputation of the German research universities that were starting to attract young American postgraduate scholars. Most critics viewed it as a reactionary move, although Pak Depicted in terms of attracting students from the growing number of private academies that continued to stress the classic languages. The reformers failed, and the classical languages continued as the centerpiece of the rigid traditional curriculum until after the Civil War. For example, at East Alabama Male College, a small Methodist school was founded in 1856 with a curriculum centered on Latin, Greek, and moral science; it resembled most other antebellum Southern colleges. It closed during the Civil War and reopened as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, becoming the state's land-grant institution. While retaining some of the antebellum classical curriculum to accommodate the returning faculty, it added new courses in agricultural and industrial arts, as well as applied sciences. It became Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1899, and is now known as Auburn University.
Impact of 19th-century colleges
Summarizing the research of Burke and Hall, Katz concludes that in the 19th century:
- The nation's many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations.
- These colleges especially promoted upward mobility by preparing ministers, and thereby provided towns across the country with a core of community leaders.
- The more elite colleges became increasingly exclusive and contributed relatively little to upward social mobility. By concentrating on the offspring of wealthy families, ministers and a few others, the elite Eastern colleges, especially Harvard, played an important role in the formation of a Northeastern elite with great power.
Law and medical schools
There were no schools of law in the early British colonies. Thus no schools of law were in America during the colonial times. A few lawyers studied at the highly prestigious Inns of Court in London, while the majority served apprenticeships with established American lawyers. Law was very well established in the colonies, compared to medicine, which was in a more rudimentary condition. In the 18th century, 117 Americans had graduated in medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, but most physicians in the colonies learned as apprentices. In Philadelphia, the Medical College of Philadelphia was founded in 1765, and became affiliated with the university in 1791. In New York, the medical department of King's College was established in 1767, and in 1770 awarded the first American M.D. degree. It is now Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
On the frontier after 1799, medical professionalism and medical education was heavily influenced by the medical program at Transylvania University in Kentucky, which graduated 8000 doctors by 1860.
Women and African-Americans at college
Mary Lyon (1797-1849) founded Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837; it was the first college opened for women and is now Mount Holyoke College, one of the Seven Sisters. Lyon was a deeply religious Congregationalist who, although not a minister, preached revivals at her school. She greatly admired colonial theologian Jonathan Edwards for his theology and his ideals of self-restraint, self-denial, and disinterested benevolence. Georgia Female College, now Wesleyan College opened in 1839 as the first Southern college for women.
Oberlin College opened in 1833 as Oberlin Collegiate Institute, in the heavily Yankee northeastern corner of Ohio. In 1837, it became the first coeducational college by admitting four women. Soon they were fully integrated into the college, and comprised from a third to half of the student body. The religious founders especially evangelical theologian Charles Grandison Finney, saw women as morally superior to men. Indeed, many alumnae, inspired by this sense of superiority and their personal duty to fulfill God's mission engaged in missionary work. Historians have typically presented coeducation at Oberlin as an enlightened societal development presaging the future evolution of the ideal of equality for women in higher education Intensely anti-slavery, Oberlin was the only college to admit black students in the 1830s. By the 1880s, however, with the fading of evangelical idealism, the school began segregating its black students.
The enrollment of women grew steadily after the Civil War. In 1870, 9,100 women comprised 21% of all college students. In 1930, 481,000 women comprised 44% of the student body.
|Women's colleges||Coed-colleges||% of all |
Philanthropy and funding
Local wealthy families supported local schools, especially of their religious denomination, often by donating land. Wealthy philanthropists for example, established Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, Vanderbilt University and Duke University. John D. Rockefeller funded the University of Chicago without imposing his name on it.
Protestant denominations set up funds that by 1830 subsidized about a fourth of the prospective ministers then in college. The American Education Society, founded in 1815, raised funds from local Protestant churches to support their students. Furthermore, it aided academies, colleges, and seminaries and helped to maintain high academic standards. It was a champion of the classical curriculum against the demands for more modern skills.
Land Grant universities
Among the first were Iowa State University, in Iowa, Purdue University in Indiana, Michigan State University, Kansas State University, Cornell University (in New York), Texas A&M University, Pennsylvania State University, The Ohio State University and the University of California. Few alumni became farmers, but they did play an increasingly important role in the larger food industry, especially after the Extension system was set up in 1916 that put trained agronomists in every agricultural county.
The engineering graduates played a major role in rapid technological development. Indeed, the land-grant college system produced the agricultural scientists and industrial engineers who constituted the critical human resources of the managerial revolution in government and business (1862–1917) laying the foundation of the world's preeminent educational infrastructure that supported the world's foremost technology-based economy.
Pennsylvania State University is a good example of this. The Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania (later the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania and then Pennsylvania State University), chartered in 1855, was intended to uphold declining agrarian values and show farmers ways to prosper through more productive farming. Students were to build character and meet a part of their expenses by performing agricultural labor. By 1875, the compulsory labor requirement was dropped, but male students were to have an hour per day of military training in order to meet the requirements of the Morrill Land Grant College Act. In the early years the agricultural curriculum was not well developed, and politicians in Harrisburg often considered it a costly and useless experiment. The college was a center of middle-class values that served to help young people on their journey to white-collar occupations.
Black land grant colleges
In 1890, Congress funded all-black land grant colleges, which were dedicated primarily to teacher training. These colleges made important contributions to rural development, including the establishment of a traveling school program by the Tuskegee Institute in 1906. Rural conferences sponsored by Tuskegee focused on improving the efficiency and living standards of black farmers. Its founder, Booker T. Washington, was the most influential black spokesman of the 1895–1915 era, and he obtained many academic grants from northern philanthropists and foundations. Starting in 1900, he worked to open connections with educators in Africa; for example he worked with the Phelps-Stokes Fund and the Firestone Rubber Company to design the Booker T. Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute in Liberia. It was delayed by World War I and opened in 1928, 13 years after Washington's death. Since the 1960s, the 19th century schools had helped train many students from less-developed countries who returned home with the ability to improve agricultural production.
At the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 1,000 colleges, with 160,000 students, existed in the United States. Explosive growth in the number of colleges occurred in bursts, especially in 1900–1930 and in 1950–1970. State universities grew from small institutions of fewer than 1000 students to campuses with 40,000 more students, as well as a network of regional campuses around the state. In turn the regional campuses broke away and became separate universities. To handle the growth of K–12 education, every state set up a network of teachers' colleges, beginning with Massachusetts in 1830's. After 1950, they became state colleges and then state universities with a broad curriculum.
|Year||BA degrees||MA degrees||PhD degrees|
Advanced degrees were not a criterion for professorships at most colleges. This began to change in the mid-19th century, as thousands of the more ambitious scholars at major schools went to Germany for one to three years to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the sciences or the humanities. Graduate schools slowly emerged in the United States. In the 1860s and 1870s, Yale and Harvard awarded a few PhD's. The major breakthrough came[according to whom?] with the opening of Clark University, which only offered graduate programs, and Johns Hopkins University, which began focusing more seriously on its PhD program. By the 1890s, Harvard, Columbia, Michigan and Wisconsin were building major graduate programs; their alumni were in strong demand at aspiring universities. By 1900, there were 6,000 enrolled graduate students. The six main universities awarded about 300 PhD's annually.
In Germany, the national government funded the universities and the research programs of the leading professors. It was impossible for professors who were not approved by Berlin to train graduate students. In the United States, private universities and state universities alike were independent of the federal government. Independence was high, but funding was low. This began to change when private foundations began regularly supporting research in science and history; large corporations sometimes supported engineering programs. The postdoctoral fellowship was established by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1919. Meanwhile, the leading universities, in cooperation with the academic scholars of the time, set up a network of scholarly journals. "Publish or perish" became the formula for faculty advancement in the research universities. After World War II, state universities across the country expanded greatly in undergraduate enrollment, and eagerly added research programs leading to master's or doctorate degrees. Their graduate faculties had to have a suitable record of publication and research grants. Late in the 20th century, "publish or perish" became increasingly important in colleges and smaller universities, not just large research universities.
Junior colleges grew from just 20 in 1909 to 170 in 1919. By 1922, 37 states had set up 70 junior colleges, enrolling about 150 students each. Meanwhile, another 137 were privately operated, with about 60 students each. Rapid expansion continued in the 1920s, with 440 junior colleges in 1930 enrolling about 70,000 students. The peak year for private institutions came in 1949, when there were 322 junior colleges in all; 180 were affiliated with churches, 108 were independent non-profit, and 34 were private Schools run for-profit.
Many factors contributed to rapid growth of community colleges. Students, parents and businessmen wanted nearby, low-cost schools to provide training for the growing white-collar labor force, as well as for more advanced technical jobs in the blue collar sphere. Four-year colleges were also growing, albeit not as fast; however many of them were located in rural or small-town areas away from the fast-growing metropolis. Community colleges continue as open enrollment, low-cost institutions with a strong component of vocational education, as well as a lower-cost preparation for transfer students into four-year schools. They appeal to a poorer, older, less prepared element.
Great Depression and New Deal
The Great Depression that began in 1929 was a major blow to higher education. Only the richest schools like Harvard had endowments big enough to absorb the losses. Smaller prestigious schools, such as MIT and Northwestern, had to cope with serious cutbacks. Despite appeals from Eleanor Roosevelt, Howard University–the federally operated school for blacks—saw its budget cut below Hoover administration levels.
After the golden years of the 1920s, the downturn hit hard at Northwestern University, a private school in Illinois. Its annual income dropped 25 percent from $4.8 million in 1930-31 to $3.6 million in 1933-34. The endowment investments shrank, fewer parents could pay full tuition, and annual giving from alumni and philanthropy fell from $870,000 in 1932 to a low of $331,000 in 1935. The university responded with two salary cuts of 10 percent each for all employees. It imposed a hiring freeze, a building freeze, and slashed appropriations for maintenance, books, and research. From a balanced budget in 1930-31, the University had deficits in the range of $100,000 for the next four years, which was made up by using the endowment. Enrollments fell in most schools, with law and music hardest hit. However, the movement toward state certification of school teachers enabled Northwestern to open up a new graduate program in education, bringing in a new clientele. At this financial low point, in June of 1933, President Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago proposed to merge the two universities, estimating annual savings of $1.7 million. The two presidents were enthusiastic, and the faculty were supportive. However, the Northwestern alumni were vehemently opposed, fearing the loss of their traditions. The medical school was oriented toward training practitioners, and felt it would lose its mission if it was merged into the larger, research oriented University of Chicago medical school. The merger plan was thus dropped. The Deering family gave an unrestricted gift of $6 million in 1935 that rescued the budget, bringing it up to $5.4 million in 1938-39. That allowed many of the spending cuts to be restored, including half the salary reductions.
State colleges and universities had depended largely on grants from the legislature, ignoring fund-raising, philanthropy. They kept tuition close to zero. Many were very hard-pressed by the Great Depression—it almost shut down the University of Colorado, as the legislature slashed its budget, there was practically no endowment, and tuition was already very low. The medical school was nearly closed in 1938 – it survived when the legislature allowed it to borrow more money. In 1939. The main campus in Boulder came within a few days of having to close. The bright spot came in the building projects. The PWA spent nearly $1 million on 15 new buildings on the Boulder campus and the medical school campus in Denver. That included a fieldhouse, a natural history museum, new wings for the college of arts and sciences, a faculty club, a small library and a new hospital. The RFC loaned $550,000 in 1933 to build women's dormitories, with the loans repaid through room and board charges.
Indiana University fared much better than most state schools thanks to the entrepreneurship of its young president Herman Wells. He collaborated with Frederick L. Hovde, the president of IU's cross state rival, Purdue; together they approached the Indiana delegation to Congress, indicating their highest priorities. For Wells, it was to build a world-class music school, replacing dilapidated facilities. As a result of these efforts, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built one of finest facilities in the country. He added matching funds from the state legislature, and opened a full-scale fund-raising campaign among alumni and the business community. In 1942, Wells reported that "The past five years have been the greatest single period of expansion in the physical plant of the University in its entire history. In this period 15 new buildings have been constructed.
Higher education was much too elitist to fit into the New Deal agenda. The educational establishment was ignored. President Franklin Roosevelt even ignored is Commissioner of education John Ward Studebaker and cut his budget. Pleas for emergency assistance for higher education, or for research projects, were rejected. However, relief agencies such as WPA and PWA were in the construction business, and work closely with local and state government which sometimes included new buildings and athletic facilities for public universities. Well, the New Deal would not give money to colleges or school districts, it did give work-study money to needy students, from high school through graduate school. The average pay scale was $15 a month for part-time work.
Eager to avoid a repeat of the highly controversial debates over a postwar bonus to veterans of the first World War, Congress in 1944 passed the G.I. Bill. It was promoted primarily by the veterans organizations, especially the American Legion, and represented a conservative program of financial aid not to poor people, but one limited to veterans who had served in wartime, regardless of their financial situation. The GI Bill made college education possible for millions by paying tuition and living expenses. The government provided between $800 and $1,400 each year to these veterans as a subsidy to attend college, which covered 50–80% of total costs. This included forgone earnings in addition to tuition, which allowed them to have enough funds for life outside of school. The GI Bill helped create a widespread belief in the necessity of college education. It opened up higher education to ambitious young men who would otherwise have been forced to immediately enter the job market. When comparing college attendance rates between veterans and non-veterans during this period, veterans were around 10% more likely to go to college than non-veterans. Most campuses became overwhelmingly male thanks to the GI Bill, since few women were covered. However, by 2000, women had reached parity in numbers and began passing men in rates of college and graduate school attendance.
Under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Congress in 1964, passed numerous Great Society programs that greatly expanded federal support for education. The Higher Education Act of 1965 set up federal scholarships and low-interest loans for college students, and subsidized better academic libraries, ten to twenty new graduate centers, several new technical institutes, classrooms for several hundred thousand students, and twenty-five to thirty new community colleges a year. A separate education bill enacted that same year provided similar assistance to dental and medical schools.
A major development[according to whom?] of the late twentieth century was the emergence on a very large scale of for-profit higher education institutions. They have traditionally appealed to low-income students, who could borrow money from the federal government to pay the tuition, and to veterans who received tuition money as part of their enlistment bonus. They have become very controversial in the 21st century, because of the high proportion of students who fail to graduate, or who do graduate and fail to get appropriate jobs; many default on repayment of their federal loans as a result. There has been additional concern over for-profit colleges as they fundamentally changed the view of colleges as a public good. As of 2016, some for profit colleges have been sanctioned by federal agencies for preying on vulnerable populations who accrue massive student loan debt in the course of earning a degree that has less value than those obtained from public or private institutions of higher learning. Federal and state officials started cracking down on for-profit universities, and some have gone out of business.
Roman Catholic colleges and universities
The first Catholic college in the United States was Georgetown University, founded in Georgetown (now Washington, D.C.). Some of the small colleges of the 19th century have become major universities and integrated into the mainstream academic community.
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities was founded in 1899 and continues to facilitate the exchange of information and methods. Vigorous debate in recent decades has focused on how to balance Catholic and academic roles, with conservatives arguing that bishops should exert more control to guarantee orthodoxy.
The orders of nuns, and some dioceses, founded numerous colleges for women. The first was the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, which opened elementary and secondary schools in Baltimore in 1873 and a four-year college in 1895. It added graduate programs in the 1980s that accepted men and is now Notre Dame of Maryland University. Another 42 women's colleges opened by 1925. By 1955, there were 116 Catholic colleges for women. Most—but not all of them—went co-ed, merged, or closed after 1970.
- Doctor of Philosophy
- Graduate school
- List of fields of doctoral studies
- History of college campuses and architecture in the United States
- Jewish quota
- Asian quota
- See Roger L. Geiger, The History of American Higher Education (2014) pp 1-8 online
- See Geiger, The History of American Higher Education (2014) pp 11-15 online
- See Geiger, The History of American Higher Education (2014) pp 8-11 online
- John R. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education (2004) pp 1-40
- Lawrence A. Cremin, American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607–1783 1970, passim
- David B. Potts, "American colleges in the nineteenth century: From localism to denominationalism." History of Education Quarterly (1971): 363-380 in JSTOR.
- David B. Potts, Baptist colleges in the development of American society, 1812-1861 (1988).
- Louis A. Haselmayer, "German Methodist colleges in the West." Methodist History (1964) 2#4 pp 35-43. online Archived 2014-11-29 at the Wayback Machine.
- John, Jr. Wright, Transylvania: Tutor to the West (1976)
- John R. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education (2004) pp 46-47
- Thelin, J. R. (2014). Essential documents in the history of American higher education. JHU Press. p. 76, 93
- Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University: A History (1962) pp 3-22
- Michael S. Pak, "The Yale Report of 1828: A New Reading and New Implications," History of Education Quarterly (2008) 48#1 pp 30-57 in JSTOR
- Rudolph, The American College and University: A History (1962) pp 124-135
- Dwayne Cox, "Academic Purpose and Command at Auburn, 1856-1902," Alabama Review (2008) 51#2 pp 83-104 online
- Michael Katz, "The Role of American Colleges in the Nineteenth Century", History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 1983), pp. 215-223 in JSTOR, summarizing Colin B. Burke, American Collegiate Populations: A Test of the Traditional View (New York University Press, 1982) and Peter Dobkin Hall, The Organization of American Culture: Private Institutions, Elites, and the Origins of American Nationality (New York University Press, 1982)
- Anton-Hermann Chroust, Rise of the Legal Profession in America (1965) vol 1 ch 1-2
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- Jacob Ernest Cooke, ed. Encyclopedia of the North American colonies (3 vol 1992) 1:214
- John D. Wright, Jr. ed., Transylvania: Tutor to the West (1980)
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- Andrea L. Turpin, "The Ideological Origins of the Women's College: Religion, Class, and Curriculum in the Educational Visions of Catharine Beecher and Mary Lyon," History of Education Quarterly, May 2010, Vol. 50 Issue 2, pp 133–158
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- Christie Anne Farnham, The education of the southern belle: Higher education and student socialization in the antebellum south (1994)
- Hoagland adds that this innovation as also advantageous for men because it would uplift them spiritually. Ronald W. Hogeland, "Coeducation of the Sexes at Oberlin College: A Study of Social Ideas in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America," Journal of Social History, (1972-73) 6#2 pp. 160-176 at p 161 in JSTOR
- Cally L. Waite, "The Segregation of Black Students at Oberlin College after Reconstruction," History of Education Quarterly (2001) 41#3 pp 344-64. in JSTOR
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- Rudolph, (1962) p 183
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- Cellini, Stephanie Riegg; Darolia, Rajeev; Turner, Leslie. "The Government is Sanctioning For-Profit Colleges. What Happens to the Students?". Brookings Brown Center. Brookings Institution. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
- Matt Krupnick, "States, federal government cracking down on for-profit colleges," CNNMoney March 12, 2014
- "For-Profit Schools" 179 recent articles and editorials from the New York Times
- Philip Gleason, Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Oxford U. Press, 1995.)
- LaBelle, Jeffrey (2011). Catholic Colleges in the 21st Century: A Road Map for Campus Ministry. Paulist Press. ISBN 9781893757899.
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- S. J. Currie, and L. Charles. "Pursuing Jesuit, Catholic identity and mission at US Jesuit colleges and universities." Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice (2011) 14#3 pp 4+ online
- Matthew Thomas Larsen, The Duty and Right of the Diocesan Bishop to Watch Over the Preservation and Strengthening of the Catholic Character of Catholic Universities in His Diocese" (PhD dissertation Catholic University of America, 2012)
- Bridget Marie Engelmeyer, "A Maryland First", Maryland Historical Magazine (1993) 78#3 pp 186–204
- Irene Harwarth; et al. (1997). Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues and Challenges. DIANE Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 9780788143243.
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- Monroe, P. (1922). "Colleges and Universities of the United States". In Foster Watson. Encyclopaedia and Dictionary of Education. 4. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd. pp. 1696–1703 – via Google Books.
- Robson, David W. Educating Republicans: The College in the Era of the American Revolution, 1750–1800. (Greenwood, 1985) online
- Ruben, Julie. The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality. University Of Chicago Press. (1996).
- Rudolph, Frederick. The American College and University: A History (1962), a standard survey
- Thelin, John R. A History of American Higher Education. Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2004. 421 pp.
- Veysey Lawrence R. The Emergence of the American University. (1965).
- Wechsler, Harold S. and Lester F. Goodchild, eds. The History of Higher Education (ASHE Reader) (3rd ed. 2008) excerpts from scholarly articles
- Barrow, Clyde W. Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894–1928 (University of Wisconsin Press 1990)
- Cardozier, Virgus R. Colleges and universities in World War II (1993) online
- Freeland, Richard M. Academia's Golden Age: Universities in Massachusetts, 1945-1970 (1992) online
- Goodchild, Lester F., et al., eds. Higher Education in the American West: Regional History and State Contexts (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
- Jencks, Christopher, and David Riesman. The Academic Revolution (1969) influential study of changes in 1960s online
- Leslie, W. Bruce. Gentlemen and Scholars: College and Community in the "Age of the University," 1865-1917 (1992) online
- Oliver Jr., John William et al. eds. Cradles of Conscience: Ohio's Independent Colleges and Universities (2003) online
- Syrett, Nicholas L. The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities (2009) online
- Beach, J. M. and W. Norton Grubb. Gateway to Opportunity: A History of the Community College in the United States (2011)
- Brint, S., & Karabel, J. The Diverted Dream: Community colleges and the promise of educational opportunity in America, 1900–1985. Oxford University Press. (1989).
- Cohen, Arthur M. and Florence B. Brawer. The American Community College (1st ed. 1982; new edition 2013) excerpts & text search; widely cited comprehensive survey
- Frye, John H. The Vision of the Public Junior College, 1900–1940: Professional Goals and Popular Aspirations. Greenwood, 1992. 163 pp.
Women and minorities
- Eisenmann, Linda. Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945–1965. (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2006). 304 pp.
- Faragher, John Mack and Howe, Florence, ed. Women and Higher Education in American History. Norton, 1988. 220 pp.
- Gasman Marybeth and Roger L. Geiger. Higher Education for African Americans before the Civil Rights Era, 1900-1964 (2012)
- Gleason, Philip. Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century. (Oxford U. Press, 1995). 434 pp. online
- Harwarth, Irene; et al. (1997). Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues and Challenges. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 9780788143243.
- Leahy, William P. Adapting to America: Catholics, Jesuits, and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century. (Georgetown U. Press, 1991) 187 pp.
- Perez, Mario Rios, and Sharon S. Lee. "Balancing Two Worlds: Asian American College Students Tell Their Life Stories /Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories," Journal of American Ethnic History (2008) 27#4 pp 107–113. online
- Roebuck, Julian B. and Komanduri S. Murty. Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Their Place in American Higher Education (1993) online
- Cohen, Sol, ed. Education In the United States: A Documentary History (5 vol, 1974), 3600 pp of primary sources from origins to 1972
- Hofstadter, Richard and Wilson Smith, eds. American Higher Education: A Documentary History (2 vol 1967); especially strong an academic freedom
- Ihle, Elizabeth L., ed. Black Women in Higher Education: An Anthology of Essays, Studies, and Documents. (Garland, 1992). 341 pp.
- Knight, Edgar W., ed. A Documentary History of Education in the South Before 1860 (5 vol 1952)
- Willis, George, Robert V. Bullough, and John T. Holton, eds. The American Curriculum: A Documentary History (1992)