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Category: Education, History Comments: 5

A Model of Leadership Education, Part 1: The State of American Education

Part 1 of an 8-part article.
From the beginning of “these United States,” Leadership Education has been the number one resource extolled by the founding generation as a “must have” to continually perpetuate a culture of virtue and build citizens capable of maintaining liberty in the land.
From the Northwest Ordinance to individual state constitutions, from the words of Adams, Jefferson, Washington, and Webster to Kirk, Barzun, Hutchinson and Adler, American greatness has always been a product of one generation passing the principles of leadership thru a very specific method of education on to the next.
But what happens when a generation or two skips this process?

Two Questions

The first question of any university or college is “What is our mission?”  The second is, “How well do we accomplish it?”
Unfortunately, in our modern times a third question is needed: “What is the ‘de facto mission’ of the institution, the mission that the school is actually pursuing?”
Former Harvard President Derek Bok noted with concern that our universities are now chasing the market over everything else.  Another former Ivy League President, Frank H. Rhodes of Cornell, wrote that given the new market realities our universities must change or become dinosaurs.
James J. Duderstadt, former President of the University of Michigan, which many people consider the premiere public university in America, argued that American universities and colleges must change to match the new market or decline along with the rest of our industrial age institutions.
In short, modern academia knows that significant changes are needed.  But where exactly are we in the historical evolution and progress of higher education?

The College and University in America*

Roger Gieger’s book, The Ten Generations of American Higher Education, provides an excellent overview of where American education began, where it has been, and where it is heading.

First Generation: Classics

The first generation of American education began in 1636 and ran until the early 1740’s.
During this period America’s first colleges were founded, including Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale.
Harvard and Yale were established by churches in order to train ministers.
(Many did not ultimately serve as clergymen, but the training did influence their manners and character which permeated the culture.)
William and Mary was designed to help train political leaders for the new world.
All three were four-year programs, with the first two years covering classical languages to prepare students to read the various classics.
In the last two years students read the great classics of world thought, guided by young faculty known as Associate Mentors.
Schools typically had less than 100 students and about 10 Associate Mentors, and the school was run by the head teacher or President who was chosen by a lay board of trustees.

Second Generation: Training for the Ministry

Generation two, from 1745-1775, saw the establishment of numerous “colonial colleges,” including King’s     College, the College of Philadelphia, the College of Rhode Island,               Dartmouth, Queen’s College, and the College of New Jersey     (Princeton).
Again, nearly all of these schools emphasized study for the ministry,         and many were established specifically to increase the doctrinal purity     of religious instruction.
During this period schools began using Enlightenment works as part of   the curriculum; many of them in modern languages.

Third Generation: Enlightenment

The Republican era, from 1776 to 1800, significantly increased the influence of the Enlightenment in American higher education as the college curriculum followed the breaking away of the new nation from the Old World.  Schools during this third generation were still small.
For example, Harvard had three professors and ten Associate Mentors while Yale had one professor supported by a few Associate Mentors.
The quality of education their graduates exhibited was incredible. The cultural outcome was consistent with high levels of morality and virtue as the lessons of the classics and the study of core religious text permeated the curriculum.

Fourth Generation: Fundraising

From 1800 until the 1820s colleges put a lot of effort into fundraising and trying to find the finances needed to operate.
As part of this, schools began offering professional degree programs in medicine and law.  Still, the central focus of these small schools remained the preparing of ministers.

Fifth Generation: Sectional Divide

The fifth generation of American higher education from 1828 to 1860 could be called the Sectional Divide.  During this period, the national split between the cultures of North and South impacted higher education.
In the South, denominational colleges continued to grow and flourish in the training of ministers, while the
influence of Enlightenment thinkers Hume, Locke,
Turnbull and others led to a new type of Northern classical college which emphasized preparatory training for citizenship and the professions — law, medicine, teaching and the clergy.
The Northern professional programs grew more rapidly than Southern colleges.  For example, the average number of students in Southern colleges was fifty-six, compared to the average of one hundred seventy-four students in the Northern classical colleges.

Sixth Generation: German Tradition

The focus on religious learning in higher education ended with the South’s loss in the Civil War, and from 1860 to 1890 the Northern schools turned from the British and Scottish Enlightenment to the German University as the model of higher education.
For three decades the American system systematically adopted the structures and traditions of the German Academy, including the following:

  • A Centralized University
  • Academic Departments
  • Graduate Studies
  • The Bachelor Degree
  • Professional Preparation as the Focus of Bachelor Level Studies

Three other trends during the sixth generation include the establishment and proliferation of

  1. women’s colleges
  2. agricultural colleges and
  3. the rise of colleges in the American West, which applied elements from Northern, Southern and European colleges.

Seventh Generation: Standardization & Growth

The seventh generation marked a distinct shift from the earlier two centuries.
The Industrial Age brought big changes to business, transportation, government, the military, lifestyle, and of course to the university.
The quarter-century from 1890 to 1915 changed nearly everything about American higher education.  Most of all, the university system standardized and then grew.
The average American college or university in 1870 had ten faculty and ninety-eight students; by 1910 the average was thirty-eight faculty and three hundred seventy-four students.
Schools already had programs in ministry, law, medicine, teaching and agriculture. They now added engineering, business, dentistry, art, architecture, music and various other specialties.
Administrations grew large, sometimes larger than the faculty. Universities broke into numerous colleges, and colleges divided into departments.
The four-year curriculum offered a classical education for the first two years followed by two years of job or career training.

Eight Generation: Nationalization

This trend continued during the “nationalization” or eighth generation from 1915 to 1945.  Accrediting agencies enforced the standardization of the curriculum, and many schools became interchangeable.
Enrollments doubled.  The number of colleges proliferated.  To the old college system we added junior colleges, teacher colleges, and urban universities for the middle class.
As demand grew, the older and more prestigious schools adopted a selective admissions system.
The stage was set for the huge growth of the 1950s spurred by the return of thousands of young men from war along with the GI Bill.

Ninth Generation: Ubiquity

In this ninth generation of American higher education, from 1945 to 1985, college became a possibility for almost everyone.
The first two years of classical education were dropped in favor of a full four years of job training with only shallow general education courses, and graduate degrees proliferated.
With the widespread system of American colleges and network of degrees, faculties and accrediting agencies, college became a norm of American life and job preparation.

Tenth Generation: Catering to the Market

The tenth generation completed the industrial age expansion.
Colleges and universities had long since stopped being a check on business and government, instead choosing to become extensions of the government-industrial-corporate complex.

Indeed, during this period schools decided that they       were businesses like any other business,   simply responding to market needs in order to survive   and grow.
The new mission of most American colleges and   universities, regardless of their published mission   statement, was “to effectively deliver whatever the  market demands.”
While perhaps viable as a mission statement, this left   much to be desired for the institutions that once     considered themselves “hallowed halls of learning” or great “promoters of freedom and knowledge.”
To be continued…
*Much of this work was in collaboration with Oliver DeMille.

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