Saturday, July 24, 2021

A Brief History of American Higher Education: Part Two — Building a New Nation


A Brief History of American Higher Education


Part Two — Building a New Nation


Following the Revolutionary War, liberal arts colleges began to multiply. Many had sponsorships and cultivation from early political figures and Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, and Alexander Hamilton.

In his final annual address to Congress, Washington outlined his dreams for a new nation, calling for the formation of a national university and a national military college:

I have heretofore proposed to the consideration of Congress the expediency of establishing a national university and also a military academy. The desirableness of both these institutions has so constantly increased with every new view I have taken of the subject that I can not omit the opportunity of once for all recalling your attention to them.


The assembly to which I address myself is too enlightened not to be fully sensible how much a flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation.


True it is that our country, much to its honor, contains many seminaries of learning highly repeatable and useful; but the funds upon which they rest are too narrow to command the ablest professors in the different departments of liberal knowledge for the institution contemplated, though they would be excellent auxiliaries.


Amongst the motives to such an institution, the assimilation of the principles, opinions, and manners of our country-men by the common education of a portion of our youth from every quarter well deserves attention. The more homogenous our citizens can be made in these particulars the greater will be our prospect of permanent union; and a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country? G. Washington, Eighth Annual Address, 7 December 1796


Our national military academics are a partial fulfillment of Washington’s vision. The large land-grant institutions of the following century may be seen as an adapted realization of his dream of a national university.


The spread of colleges across the United States followed the spread of settlements. Often private colleges were associated with the faith traditions of the settlers. Some had strong ties to abolitionists, like Knox, Oberlin, Berea, and Illinois Colleges.


Soon states began to establish public universities. William & Mary and Rutgers, both Colonial Colleges are the oldest of our public institutions, but they were private institutions when founded. The oldest public universities in the U.S. are the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The former was chartered first, and the latter began instruction first. Both began operation while Washington was still president of the new Republic.


The rise of industrialization, immigration, and growing democratization shaped the growth and character of higher education in America.


The scientific advancements and the industrial revolution created new needs for technical experts. The first technical school was the École Polytechnique, which was founded in Paris in 1794. The first technical school in the United States was the Lyceum, founded in Gardiner, Maine in 1822. It provided a 2-year training program for farmers and mechanics and became the forerunner of the Agricultural and Mechanical universities that flourished at the end of the century. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which was founded in upstate New York in 1824, was the first engineering school in the U.S.


As curricula diversified, so did student populations. In 1833, Oberlin College was founded and was open to Black students at that time. In 1837, the Institute for Colored Youth, which is now known as Cheney University of Pennsylvania was founded as the first college for Black students in the U.S. This, our oldest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) is now part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.


The Emma Willard School, a leading preparatory school for women, was founded by its namesake in 1814, and is considered the first higher-education institution for women in the U.S. In 1835, Mariette and Emily Ingham founded Ingham University in Attica, NY. It was the first women’s university chartered in the U.S. In 1837, Ingham moved to nearby LeRoy, NY. It closed in 1892. Wesleyan College in Macon, GA was founded in 1836, and is the first college in the world to be chartered to grant degrees to women. In 1837, Mary Lyons founded Mount Holyoke College, which became the model for many of the leading women’s college in the nation. One year later, Oberlin admitted women, becoming our first co-educational institution.


In the 1830s, a political movement began to unfold advocating for the creation of agricultural colleges. Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a faculty member at Illinois College became a leading proponent of this effort. In 1853, the Illinois Legislature adopted a proposal drafted by Turner encouraging the Illinois delegation to put forward federal legislation to create land-grant universities promoting agricultural and industrial research and education.


Soon the Illinois contingent realized that such an act was more likely to pass if it were proposed by an eastern politician. Justin Morrill of Vermont took the lead. The Morrill Act was passed by Congress in 1859 and vetoed by President James Buchanan. Morrill resubmitted the act with the addition that the new institutions would also teach military science. The revised act as signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on 2 July 1862 launching one of the greatest national expansions of higher education in our history.


Against the backdrop of the Civil War, Lincoln’s presidency included the creation of our nation’s land-grant universities, the groundwork for the Alaska Purchase, the initiation of the transcontinental railroad, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph, and Emancipation Proclamation.


The second Morrill Act of 1892 called on then segregated states to create land-grant universities for Black students. These include Florida A&M and North Carolina A&T, which is now the largest HBCU in the country.


Many land-grant universities were created in response to the Morrill Act. Some states identified existing institutions to be their land grants. Here are the current land-grant universities.



·      Alabama A&M University (HBCU)

·      Auburn University

·      Tuskegee University (HBCU, unofficial but de facto land grant)


·      University of Alaska Fairbanks


·      Diné College (tribal college)

·      Tohono O’odham Community College (tribal college)

·      University of Arizona, Tucson


·      University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

·      University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff (HBCU)


·      University of California, Berkeley


·      Colorado State University


·      University of Connecticut


·      University of Delaware

·      Delaware State University (HBCU)

District of Columbia

·      University of the District of Columbia (HBCU)


·      University of Florida

·      Florida A&M University (HBCU)


·      University of Georgia

·      Fort Valley State University (HBCU)


·      University of Hawaii


·      University of Idaho


·      University of Illinois


·      Purdue University


·      Iowa State University


·      Kansas State University (The first institution created as a result of the Morrill Act)


·      University of Kentucky

·      Kentucky State University (HBCU)


·      Louisiana State University

·      Southern University and A&M College (HBCU)


·      University of Maine


·      University of Maryland, College Park

·      University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (HBCU)


·      University of Massachusetts, Amherst

·      Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Privately founded in response to the Morrill Act)


·      Michigan State University


·      University of Minnesota

·      White Earth Tribal and Community College

·      Red Lake Nation College (tribal college)

·      Leech Lake Tribal College

·      Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College


·      Mississippi State University

·      Alcorn State University (HBCU)


·      University of Missouri

·      Lincoln University (HBCU)


·      Montana State University


·      University of Nebraska, Lincoln


·      University of Nevada, Las Vegas

·      University of Nevada, Reno

New Hampshire

·      University of New Hampshire

New Jersey

·      Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

New Mexico

·      New Mexico State University

New York

·      Cornell University (The 8th and only non-Colonial College member of the Ivy League)

North Carolina

·      North Carolina State University

·      North Carolina A&T State University (HBCU)

North Dakota

·      North Dakota State University

·      Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (tribal college)


·      Ohio State University

·      Central State University (HBCU)


·      Oklahoma State University

·      Langston University (HBCU)


·      Oregon State University


·      Pennsylvania State University

Rhode Island

·      University of Rhode Island

South Carolina

·      Clemson University

·      South Carolina State University (HBCU)

South Dakota

·      South Dakota State University


·      University of Tennessee

·      Tennessee State University (HBCU)


·      Texas A&M University

·      Prairie View A&M University (HBCU)


·      Utah State University


·      University of Vermont


·      Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University — Virginia Tech

·      Virginia State University (HBCU)


·      Washington State University

West Virginia

·      West Virginia University

·      West Virginia State University (HBCU)


·      University of Wisconsin, Madison


·      University of Wyoming

Friday, July 16, 2021

A Brief History of American Higher Education: Part One — Colonial Colleges

NB: Many details were culled from the respective linked web pages and assembled here to create an overview.


The history of higher education in the United States is older than the Republic itself. Colonists established our early colleges initially to train clergy and then to prepare lawyers and teachers. It was very much a vocational enterprise.


There are nine institutions typically referred to as the Colonial Colleges. They include seven of the eight “Ivies” (The eighth Ivy, Cornell, was founded in 1865). Rutgers and William and Mary round out the Colonial Colleges and are now public institutions.


Ten other U.S. colleges and universities were also founded before the American Revolution, but chartered after independence. Some were established as colleges and others as academies that later became colleges.


Name (* denotes Colonial Colleges) Founding Historic Affiliation Original Name
Harvard University* 1636 Puritan New College
College of William and Mary* 1693 Church of England same
St. John’s College 1696 Church of England King William’s School
Yale University* 1701 Puritan Collegiate School
Washington College 1723 non-sectarian Kent County Free School
Moravian College 1742 Moravian Church Bethlehem Female Seminary
University of Delaware 1743 Presbyterian Newark Academy
Princeton University* 1746 Presbyterian College of New Jersey
Washington and Lee University 1749 non-sectarian Augusta Academy
Columbia University* 1754 Church of England King’s College
University of Pennsylvania* 1755 non-sectarian College of Philadelphia
Brown University* 1764 Baptist College of Rhode Island
Rutgers University* 1766 Dutch Reformed Queen’s College
Dartmouth College* 1769 Puritan same
College of Charleston 1770 Church of England same
University of Pittsburgh 1770 non-sectarian Pittsburgh Academy
Salem College 1772 Moravian Church Little Girls’ School
Dickinson College 1773 Presbyterian same
Hampden-Sydney College 1775 Presbyterian same


Early curricula embraced the classical trivium and quadrivium of European models along with heavy doses of Greek, Latin, history, ethics, and sometimes Hebrew. There were no organized athletics, but there were numerous literary societies in which students engaged in debate and discussion, activities that were scarce in early collegiate classrooms. One such society was Phi Beta Kappa, which was established at the College of William and Mary on 5 December 1776. It has become America’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society.


John Harvard was a British clergyman who immigrated to New England in 1637 and died the following year of tuberculosis. On his deathbed, he bequeathed half of his estate (~$170,000 today) and his considerable library to the newly founded college, which was renamed to honor its first significant benefactor. From these humble beginnings, our oldest college has become one of the world’s leading research universities. Among Harvard’s faculty and alumni are 161 Nobel Laureates; 48 Pulitzer Prize and 18 Fields Medal winners; 375 Rhodes Scholars; 255 Marshall Scholars; and 8 U.S. Presidents. John Winthrop who joined their faculty in 1738 was the first to teach legitimate science laboratories.


William and Mary, the alma mater of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler (George Washington also received his surveyor’s certification there), established graduate programs in Law and Medicine in 1779. The law school is the oldest in the nation. The campus also boasts the oldest building in American higher education, which was designed by the preëminent British architect, Christopher Wren, and constructed in 1695. Due to financial hardships following the Civil War, William and Mary closed in 1882. In one of higher education’s greatest second acts, it reopened in 1888 with support from the Commonwealth of Virginia and became wholly public in 1906.


Yale was founded to train Congregational ministers, and its original curriculum was restricted to ancient languages and theology. Jeremiah Dummer was a leading proponent and supporter of the fledgling Collegiate School. Accounts differ as to whether he or Cotton Mather contacted Elihu Yale, president of the East India Company requesting support. Yale contributed 417 books along with goods that sold for £562. The University adopted Yale’s name in recognition of the gift. In an American Heritage article, John Steele Gordon claims that Dummer was the more deserving of recognition, but that the trustees could not bring themselves to name the institution Dummer College. Yale’s faculty and alumni comprise 65 Nobel laureates, 78 MacArthur fellows, 252 Rhodes Scholars, 123 Marshall Scholars, and 5 U.S. presidents.


Princeton University was initially founded by “New Light” Presbyterians who had been expelled by the Synod of Philadelphia as part of a schism resulting from the Great Awakening. It was tied to disputes over the Westminster Confession, the authority of itinerant ministers, and the training of clergy. Although there was no formal connection, many early supporters of Princeton were affiliated with William Tennant’s Log College, the first theological seminary for Presbyterians in North America. John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was president of Princeton from 1768 to 1794. He led the university to play an important role in the American Revolution, including hosting the Continental Congress in 1783. Alumni include 2 U.S. presidents and three current members of the U.S. Supreme Court.


Columbia University was established by George II of Great Britain as an Anglican response to the founding of Presbyterian Princeton. It was renamed following the American Revolution, and two of its early trustees were alumni, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Columbia’s alumni and faculty include 7 founding fathers, 125 Pulitzer Prize winners (elevated by the Journalism School), 122 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 4 U.S. Presidents.


Benjamin Franklin founded the College of Philadelphia (later known as the University of Pennsylvania) in 1749, with a purpose and plan he outlined in Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania:


The Idea of what is true Merit, should also be often presented to Youth, explain'd and impress'd on their Minds, as consisting in an Inclination join'd with an Ability to serve Mankind, one's Country, Friends and Family; which Ability is (with the Blessing of God) to be acquir'd or greatly encreas'd by true Learning; and should indeed be the great Aim and End of all Learning (p. 30).


In 1755, William Smith became the first academic to hold the title of Provost in the U.S. At Penn, Smith introduced the first modern systematic course of study and degree requirements. He later became the first president of Washington College. Penn’s alumni and trustees have included 8 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 7 signers of the U.S. Constitution, 80 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (co-founded by Franklin and John Bartram), and 2 U.S. presidents.


Although historically connected to the Baptist Church, Brown University was the first North American institution to accept students independent of religious affiliation. One of the three petitioners proposing the establishment of Brown was William Ellery who would later become a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The university is named for the Brown family, major philanthropic supporters, who included slave traders and abolitionists. It is a complex history with which the university continues to wrestle. Brown alumni and faculty include 8 Nobel laureates, 57 Rhodes Scholars, 52 Gates Cambridge Scholars, and 15 MacArthur Fellows.


Rutgers University was founded as Queen’s College in honor of Queen Charlotte of Great Britain. In 1825, it was renamed in honor of Colonel Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War hero and significant benefactor of the college. In 1864, Rutgers was made the land-grant college of New Jersey. It became a public institution in 1945. In addition to its original home in New Brunswick, Rutgers has campuses in Newark and Camden.


Dartmouth College was founded by Congregational minister, Eleazar Wheelock, Wheelock had tutored Samson Occom, a Presbyterian minister who became the first Native American to publish in English. This success led Wheelock to establish a school in Connecticut for native students. He secured a charter, with significant help from Occom, to establish Dartmouth to educate Native Americans. The college is named for Lord Dartmouth, head of the College’s original British Board of Trustees who initially opposed the enrollment of non-native students; even so, most of Dartmouth’s students were the sons of colonists. In 1970, Dartmouth established a program dedicated to native recruitment. Since then, over 700 indigenous students have graduated from the college.


In the years immediately following the Revolution, many Founding Fathers played critical roles in the leadership and development of America’s colleges and universities. The creation of the Republic was one of the great experiments of the Enlightenment, and our founders knew that higher education would would be essential in preparing the next generation of leaders to sustain and develop the new nation.


This Blog Has Moved