The three major events that influenced the development of higher education in the US
The development of higher education in the US has been influenced by a number of political and social events that occurred on the national and world fronts. These events influenced enrollment, size and number, structure, aims, and content of curriculums in institutions of higher education. In this paper, the influences of the Second World War, rise of the US into a superpower, and landmark court rulings on the development of higher education in the US will be explored.
The Second World War
The Second World War transformed higher education in America in three major ways. Firstly, it redefined the relationship between the federal government and institutions of higher education in relation to funding for research and loans for students. It also led to an increase in the number of students enrolled and in the size of the universities. Lastly, it led to the development of new curriculums (Eisenmann, 2006, p. 47). Prior to the war, universities and colleges were under the control of local and state governments. The advent of the war however created an unprecedented demand for military research. The federal governments provided universities with funds to conduct war-oriented research. The fact that the products of research such as the atomic bomb helped the US win the war created a new appreciation for academic research. Federal funding to educational institutions for research was thus continued even in the post-war period (Forest, Kinser, & Kinser, 2002, p. 468).
The enactment into law of the 1944 Servicemen’s Adjustment Act, on the other hand, transformed higher education from a preserve of the elite into a mass production entity. The Act enabled the federal government to fund the education of post-war veterans to facilitate their integration into the US society. This led to exponential increases in enrollment that forced campuses to expand to accommodate the increased number of students. It also led to democratization of higher education as students from all social classes enrolled in the universities (Gornitzka, Kogan, & Amaral, 2005, p. 306). During the war, education was mainly geared towards meeting war needs for instance, producing arms for the US and its allies. In the post-war period, curriculums were changed to conform to the need to stabilize and grow the economy. The migration of intellectuals from Europe into the US during and after the war is another factor that led to the expansion of curriculums offered in universities. The immigrants became employed as tutors and professors in these institutions (Eisenmann, 2006, p. 48).
Currently, the federal government still supports academic research. The federal government student loans, expanded to include students from low and middle income families in the 1960s, still helps disadvantaged students to access higher education. The growth in the size and number of universities and colleges are also beneficial because they allow universities to meet the increased demand for higher education. Additionally, education is still aimed at amongst other things meeting the contemporary needs of the society (Eckel & King, n. d.).
The post-second war rise of the US into a world superpower alongside the Soviet Union refocused its attention on national defense. In particular, the launch of the first unmanned space satellite named the Sputchnik by the Soviet Union in 1956 triggered an increase in federal government investment in academic research. The primary driver of the Cold War was idealistic differences between the US and the Soviet Union. The former supported capitalism while the latter believed in communalism. This competition with the Soviet Union made the US reexamine its national ideals especially those relating to racial segregation in education. Currently, the US is still a superpower and is still cognizant of the need to provide its citizens with higher education not only for security purposes but also to remain globally competitive. The US needs to make advances in fields like technology in order to compete with countries like India and China (Forest, Kinser, & Kinser, 2002, p. 469).
A series of court rulings in the 1950s and 1960s also transformed higher education in the US. During this period, civil rights group lobbied against segregation practices in the South. The landmarking ruling in 1954 by the Supreme court in the Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka amongst other court rulings marked the end of the equal but separate doctrine of education in the South. African-Americans were allowed for the first time to attend colleges and universities. These rulings democratized higher education permitting its access to people from all races, social backgrounds, and gender. The principle of equal access to education for all became indoctrinated into the national principles. It still influences decisions and practices in institutions of higher education to date particularly in relation to minority groups (Forest, Kinser, & Kinser, 2002, p. 468; Eckel & King, n.d.).
In summary therefore, the second world war, ascendance of the US into a world superpower, and landmark court rulings against segregation practices in higher education influenced the structure, enrollment, curriculums contents, size amongst other factors of higher education in the US. The influence of these factors is still evident in current times.
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