American Education (1800-1917)

The number of American colleges expanded quickly in this era and many went out of business within a few years, or decades, of existence. Americans increasingly saw classical education as irrelevant, and the colleges that survived were those willing to adapt. Many universities offered high school classes as well, as a cost saving measure.

American Education (1800-1917) American Education (1800-1917) American Education (1800-1917) American Education (1800-1917) American Education (1800-1917)

Education Boom and Bust

This era began with unsustainable, rapid, growth among American colleges and universities. While this resulted in many new colleges going out of business within a few years of existence, it also meant that education was more accessible than ever before. A new upper-middle class of educated citizens emerges. The colleges that survived this boom-and-bust did so by serving a specific population; many new schools were born out of the need to educate women or blacks. At the beginning of this era, segregated colleges for women and blacks sprang up. These groups were perceived as having unique educational needs and as being unable to be educated alongside the traditional white male college population. Later, the Civil War allowed for a gender and race shift that opened up some colleges to integrated and/or co-educational classes.

Defining an American University Education

Much of commonplace American university education today was born out of this era. For example, Harvard University received money to create a graduate fellowship, which required graduate students to teach undergraduates ½ time, in exchange for free tuition. This continues to define the lives of modern graduate students. Additionally, the terms “semester” and “credit” were defined by a league of university presidents. Also, the American Association of University Professors began to shape an early form of professional tenure. Finally, this era saw the birth of "elite" colleges, many of which are now in the Ivy League. These schools began the first selective admissions requirements, though they were non-binding at this point. The “elite” colleges also begin to grow their endowments and their affluence contrasts with the financial constraints of most other schools.

The Morrill Land Grant Act

Passed in 1862, the Morrill Land Grant Act provided funding for colleges and universities that would "without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts... in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life." Under the act, each eligible state received 30,000 acres of federal land for each member of congress; they could use this land to build or to fund their college. When the Morrell Act was renewed in 1890, after the end of the Civil War, the act added a caveat that race was not an admissions criterion, or that the land-grant school would be specifically for persons of color. Among the 70 colleges and universities which evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today's historically Black colleges and universities, as well as several revered universities (including Cornell and MIT).

Take Aways

  1. Universities become bigger -- in both population and acreage-- and their focus becomes broader.
  2. The number of colleges booms, and open their doors to people outside of the upper class.
  3. Colleges for women and Blacks begin during this era, while some mainstream colleges offer integrated and/or co-educational classes.