A Brief History of Higher Education


Years 1862 - 1944

Creation of the Structure

Modern colleges and universities were born; most top-tier universities were founded prior to 1900.

Branches of knowledge, in conjunction with the industrial revolution, changed the scope and operations of colleges, replacing a myriad of institutions and becoming a catch-all for post-secondary education.

Prior to this expansion, American colleges followed the British model stressing classical studies and theology.

New “knowledge areas” and “disciplines” were established and grafted into the existing framework.

Faculty were organized into departments according to discipline, and the departments were then designated in colleges - business, law, medicine, etc.

Like the industrial sector, faculty organized into an operative union. The AAUP (American Association of University Professors) was founded in 1915, and they worked to ensure “academic freedom”.

The proliferation of new “knowledge areas” and “academic disciplines” were added onto a faculty governance structure.  This gave professors autonomy for their class and limited oversight from the college.


Years 1944 - 1983

The Evolution

The GI Bill, legislated to prevent a depression as 15 million GIs returned to the work force, instead created a five-fold increase in college graduates in the decade after World War II.

Within 5 years of the first GI bill, over 6,000 for-profit institutions were created to capture (and often defraud) government funding directed to GIs. To curtail fraudulent actors, accreditation began. 

Developments in radio and television catapulted interest in college sporting events.  

By 1952, the NCAA was created to respond to rampant fraud in athletics between colleges, cartels, and gamblers.  

By 1965, the federal government passed the Higher Education Act, opening federal grants and loans to all students (not just GIs) of public and private schools. 

Radio and television’s thrust, combined with the federal loan program, created another enrollment explosion.  By the 1970s, college had become a rite of passage for middle-class Americans.

By 1972, federal grant availability required an accredited college, making accreditation a necessity for successful colleges.

In 1973, the NCAA divided intercollegiate athletics into 3 divisions, reducing financial pressure on smaller schools.


US News Rankings

Years 1983 - Today

The Consumer Era

In 1983, US News and World Report published the initial College Rankings.  

Colleges began competing for students as never before.  Spending on non-education functions ballooned.  Grade inflation and luxurious college amenities soon followed.

Colleges began abandoning established teaching models, instead adopting the metrics established by US News.

These metrics led to a faculty preoccupation with publishing over teaching.  Professors demanded smaller class schedules due to publishing requirements.  A massive increase in published work created widespread replication.

In 1983, the NCAA lost its control over television contracts, and coverage of college sports exploded.  The focus of college involvement began to shift. 

Tuition rose 1200% from 1980 - 2021, almost six times the inflation rate.  Students struggled to repay the resulting debt.  In 2010, it became necessary for the US Dept of Education to replace banks as the guarantor of 100% of college loans.

In 2015, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that 60¢ of every dollar of higher tuition is due to federal loans.  The careless availability of college loans became one of the largest factors in the exploding cost of college. 


At its inception, higher education endowed autonomous professors to exercise faculty governance across a small school.  It has retained much of that structure to this day, and it has been unable to effectively absorb the massive changes that have occurred.   

There has never been an evaluation that focuses on the strengths to buttress and the weaknesses to be eliminated.

As a result, the quality and value of higher education has declined significantly.