American Education (1980-1999)

An increased interest in a college education, coupled with the increased challenge of getting a job without a degree led to an enrollment boom at 2 year and commuter schools: more than 50% of new freshmen enrolled at those institutions. With a movement towards "new vocationalism" more students studied "practical" subjects like business, management and accounting.

American Education (1980-1999) American Education (1980-1999) American Education (1980-1999) American Education (1980-1999) American Education (1980-1999)

Increasing Enrollment, Increasing Competition

Students in college in this era graduated from high school at a higher rate than their peers from earlier years: 83.5% of the population in 1999 completed four years of high school as opposed to only 41% in 1960. This increase in graduated contributed to an increase in college attendance, and an increase in college tuition. The increase of eligible students also contributed to the elite universities taking fewer and fewer of their applicants. There is an increased furor around preparing a student for an elite college from birth, which manifests itself in competitive college-prep schools from pre-K onwards. In this increasingly competitive environment, more students chose to live at home and commute, or to attend a 2-year school, than ever before. In an effort to encourage greater numbers of students to live on 4-year college campuses, this era sees an increase in luxurious dorm rooms, coeducational housing and “theme houses.”


There is a move during the 1980's towards a "new vocationalism," as students chose academic majors in topics that they believed would guarantee them a job upon graduation. Rather than studying the traditional physical/hands-on vocational careers, students in this era found job security by studying management, business and accounting. There is a decrease in living-wage-paying blue-collar jobs, and fewer people are staying in one industry or one position for their entire career. High school students during these eras are encouraged to go to college regardless of the career path that they wish to pursue; high-school exit exams are increasingly aligned with college standards. The push towards college-for-all correlates with both an increase in college enrollment and college drop-out rates.


Students in college during this era witnessed the birth of the internet, the growth of the personal computer, and were communicating, studying, and working in a totally different manner than their classmates from the past hundred years. Databases, such as ERIC (Educational Resources database) went online, changing the way that academic information was accessed and shared. Conversely, as information sharing becomes increasingly easy, the cost of paper textbooks (still used at almost all universities) continues to skyrocket.

Take Aways

  1. A "new vocationalism" means an increased study of business, management and accounting.
  2. It is increasingly hard to get a job without a BA, so students are increasingly seeking a college education.
  3. More than 50% of new freshmen enroll at 2 year and commuter schools.