Higher Education Systems and Institutions: United States of America

  • Martin FinkelsteinEmail author
  • Robert Kelchen
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_381-1

Keywords

High Education System National Labor Relation Board American High Education Student Loan Debt High Education Administration 
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This entry begins with an overview of the organization of the public and private sectors of higher education in the United States. From there, it considers the dynamics of the system in terms of governance and basic financing patterns both system-wide and within individual institutions and an overview of the major internal constituencies, including faculty, students, and administrators. We conclude with a look at new developments, including the evolving focus from access to degree completion, concerns regarding college affordability, heightened accountability pressures, and growing competition among colleges to enroll students.

Basic System Organization

The higher education system in the United States is primarily composed of some 4600 corporately autonomous degree-granting and 2500 certificate-granting public and private institutions that receive some financial support from the federal government (Snyder et al. 2016). The American system is federal in nature (Duryea and Williams 2000; Johnstone 2003): while the US Department of Education provides some oversight and substantial funding, each of the 50 states has the ability to shape their own higher education system. Within this federated system, the legal basis for individual colleges and universities (both public and private) lies in charters granted by state governments to corporately autonomous institutions that are governed by lay boards of trustees, derived from the Protestant tradition in Continental Europe (Cowley 1980).

The overall system is bifurcated along two major axes. First, in terms of mission and degree level – approximately half the system (about nine million students) is principally oriented to vocational or workforce preparation and offers either 2-year associate degrees or nondegree certificate options to vocationally oriented youth as well as nontraditional adult students (although increasingly, this sector has taken on an important “transfer” function to the 4-year sector). The other half provides baccalaureate and graduate degree-level instruction in 4-year colleges and universities to a student body that has traditionally been younger and attending full -time but is now becoming more diverse in age and attending increasingly part-time (Gumport 2000).

A second axis of institutional differentiation is between publicly and privately governed institutions. Public institutions are overseen by a governing board consisting of most members either directly elected by voters or selected by the state’s governor and legislature (Schwartz 2010a), while private nonprofit institutions often use self-perpetuating boards in which current members select new members (Schwartz 2010b), and for-profit colleges are either controlled by individual entrepreneurs or have boards similar to other large corporations. The federal government provides funds to colleges regardless of institutional control as long as they meet basic quality and data reporting requirements – in the case of private institutions, primarily for student aid and research support – while state and local governments primarily fund operations at public colleges and universities.

In 2013, the institutional landscape for degree-granting institutions appeared as shown in Table 1.
Table 1

Number of degree-granting institutions, enrollment by institutional type and control, fall 2013

Type of institution

Number of institutions

Enrollment

Overall total

4716

20,375,789

Public

1625

14,745,558

Private

3091

5,630,231

Research and doctoral

  

Public

175

4,258,373

Private

119

1,514,065

Total

294

5,772,438

Master’s

  

Public

273

2,655,967

Private

417

1,956,083

Total

690

4,612,050

Baccalaureate

  

Public

198

1,115,474

Private

652

954,842

Total

850

2,070,316

Special-focus

  

Public

45

90,603

Private

1153

861,643

Total

1198

952,246

2-year

  

Public

934

6,625,141

Private

750

343,598

Total

1684

6,968,739

Note: Excludes 13 institutions that had no enrollment. Special-focus 4-year institutions award degrees primarily in single fields of study, such as medicine, business, fine arts, theology, and engineering

Source: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Digest of Education Statistics, 2014, “Table 317.40”. Retrieved at https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d14/tables/dt14_317.40.asp

Perhaps most strikingly, the table shows the relative small size of the university sector: only 294 or not quite one-sixth of the 4-year sector and less than 10% of the entire degree-granting postsecondary enterprise. Beyond the 294 research and doctoral universities (two-thirds public; one-third private, not-for profit), just under two-fifths (38.1%) of the remaining 4422 institutions are 2-year, associate degree-granting institutions, and the remainder are about evenly divided between master’s and free-standing, baccalaureate-granting institutions, the latter of which are disproportionately (two-thirds) private, not-for-profit. While public institutions barely outnumber private institutions, enrollment in the public sector, primarily in research and doctoral universities, outpaces the private sector by 3:1. The sole exception here is the baccalaureate institution, home of the traditional American free-standing liberal arts college, where the private sector continues to dominate both in terms of institutional numbers and in enrollments.

Higher Education Governance

The basic unit of analysis for the American system remains the corporately independent college or university which operates with unusual autonomy, subject only to responsiveness to revenue sources (the federal government for all colleges, state government for the public sector, alumni and local communities in the private sector and increasingly in the public sector) and subject to broad federal regulations.

Within institutions, the faculty is organized into multiple levels of relatively self-contained units that only interact with each other when necessary. The most essential organizational element (the equivalent of the academic “atom”) is the academic department: an aggregation of faculty usually trained in a specific academic discipline to form a relatively autonomous unit that controls both undergraduate and graduate instruction in a particular academic field (Clark 1983). The unit exercises control over academic course offerings and, within the parameters defined by broader national disciplinary norms, research in a particular field, and, most importantly, control over its own membership.

Theoretically, all full-time members of the department – whatever their seniority – are “equal” partners in steering the enterprise. This departmental form of organization – as opposed to the chair system in Germany, for example – operates as a constraint on the individual autonomy of faculty members in the United States in terms of decisions related to course offerings, teaching assignments, new courses and academic programs in the field, and so on (Clark 1983). More recently, there is evidence that intermediate academic units, the college, faculty, or school (e.g., medicine, business, or law), and their heads, the academic deans, have assumed greater decision-making authority as institutions have increasingly decentralized while increasing their managerial ethos (Finkelstein et al. 2016; Cummings and Finkelstein 2011).

Quality Assurance. Historically, quality assurance in American higher education through the accreditation process operated on the principles of voluntary self-regulation, peer review, and a focus on improvement. This is different from others (such as Japan and those in northern Europe) that have the federal government directly license colleges (Mori 2009; Shah et al. 2011). There are two main types of institutional accreditation in the United States. The seven regional accreditors, which primarily cover public and private colleges that are open to students from different religious backgrounds, collaboratively developed broad, albeit flexible, standards for assessing quality. Colleges undergo periodic self-studies that address regional standards and are “visited” by teams of reviewers from peer institutions to assess the extent to which standards are being met and to determine whether a college should be accredited. There are also 11 national accrediting organizations, which primarily cover faith-based colleges (less than 1% of students) and vocationally oriented for-profit colleges (about 15% of all students) (Council for Higher Education Accreditation 2015, 2016).

Since 1952, the federal government has relied on this voluntary system of self-regulation in determining which colleges should be eligible to receive federal funds, preferring to recognize accrediting agencies instead of recognizing individual colleges (Conway 1979). But in recent years, the US Department of Education has increased its oversight over accreditors due to concerns about poor academic outcomes (United States Government Accountability Office 2014). One of the largest accreditors of for-profit colleges, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, lost its federal recognition in 2016 (Thomason 2016), requiring all of its member colleges to find a new accreditor within 18 months in order to continue to receive federal funds.

Within the broad context of voluntary, peer-led quality assurance, the United States has seen the growth of specialized accreditation at the program level, which in some cases is required for specialized colleges to receive federal financial aid. The 67 specialized accrediting bodies have assumed a prominent role in providing ostensibly voluntary seals of approval for specialized areas of study at individual universities – seals that have become virtually required signposts, especially for graduate education and/or undergraduate education in the professions (Council for Higher Education Accreditation 2015, 2016). These accreditors have come to play a prominent role in many fields in identifying requisite faculty qualifications for teaching, including minimal levels of scholarly productivity, faculty-student ratios, as well as prescribing the content of academic programs and even courses.

Higher Education Finance

Public and private nonprofit colleges in the United States receive revenue from a variety of sources, with key trends between 1998 and 2013 shown in Table 2. The overall inflation-adjusted revenue per full-time equivalent (FTE) student increased across each sector during this period, with increases ranging from over $13,000 per student at private research universities to barely $800 per student at community colleges. The total per-student revenue amounts by sector in 2013 ranged from about $13,000 per year at community colleges to $90,000 per year at private research universities. At non-research universities, increases in tuition revenue were the largest source of additional revenue during this period. This is particularly notable at public institutions, as state and local funding have traditionally been the primary revenue source but that have changed as states have shifted a larger percentage of the price tag onto students and their families. In 1993, real state and local appropriations were $7022 per student and rose to a peak of $8598 per student in 2001 before falling to a low of $6020 per student in 2012 (State Higher Education Executive Officers 2016). The total state funding has increased over this period, but it has been unable to keep up with rapidly increasing enrollment.
Table 2

Per-FTE revenue sources by college type, 1998–2013 (US $, inflation-adjusted)

Category (2013)

1998

2003

2008

2013

Percent change, 1998–2013

Public research

Total revenue

32,155

36,452

39,275

40,746

26.7

Tuition revenue

5577

6480

8146

10,325

85.1

Federal/state/local funds

15,973

18,184

18,515

15,499

−3.0

Other sources

10,605

11,788

12,614

14,922

40.7

Public master’s

Total revenue

16,661

18,116

19,945

19,232

15.4

Tuition revenue

4318

4867

6108

7388

71.1

Federal/state/local funds

9302

9710

9837

7687

−17.4

Other sources

3041

3539

4000

4157

36.7

Public bachelor’s

Total revenue

N/A

19,280

21,153

19,778

2.6

Tuition revenue

N/A

4338

5548

6599

52.1

Federal/state/local funds

N/A

10,492

11,353

9071

−13.5

Other sources

N/A

4450

4252

4108

−7.7

Community colleges

Total revenue

12,228

12,987

14,516

13,082

7.0

Tuition revenue

2379

2784

3223

3871

62.7

Federal/state/local funds

8768

8692

9712

7907

−9.8

Other sources

1081

1511

1581

1304

20.6

Private research

Total revenue

77,121

68,010

74,187

90,441

17.3

Tuition revenue

17,619

19,624

21,380

22,646

28.5

Federal/state/local funds

10,080

12,787

12,918

12,093

20.0

Other sources

49,422

35,599

39,889

55,702

12.7

Private master’s

Total revenue

23,850

22,335

23,378

26,535

11.3

Tuition revenue

12,591

13,855

15,383

16,557

31.5

Federal/state/local funds

1527

1577

1286

1098

−28.1

Other sources

9732

6903

6709

8880

−8.8

Private bachelor’s

Total revenue

28,126

29,345

28,871

38,068

35.3

Tuition revenue

11,415

13,010

14,530

15,164

32.8

Federal/state/local funds

2165

2231

2048

1638

−24.3

Other sources

14,546

14,104

12,293

21,266

46.2

Note: “Other sources” includes auxiliary enterprises such as housing and athletics and gifts/donations. Data on public baccalaureate colleges were not available in 1998

Source: Delta Cost Project

As Table 2 shows, per-student government funding from all sources (including federal grants and contracts) declined for all types of colleges between 2008 and 2013 as state budgets tightened and enrollment increased. A particularly important funding support for research universities is federal research and development funds, which totaled $40 billion in 2013. But this revenue source fell by nearly 15% since 2011 (American Association for the Advancement of Science 2017), forcing research institutions to scramble for private or foundation dollars to support research. For-profit colleges are not included in the table due to data limitations, but these institutions tend to get almost all of their revenue from tuition dollars. They do face a federal restriction that prohibits them from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from federal financial aid programs, and many for-profit colleges are close to this threshold (Kelchen 2017).

Total per-student expenditures (as shown in Table 3) also increased for the typical college in all sectors between 1993 and 2013, with research universities spending far more per student than baccalaureate institutions or community colleges. The largest single expenditure category for most types of institutions involves instruction. Public colleges spent between $5402 (community colleges) and $10,783 (research universities) per student in 2013, while private nonprofit colleges spent between $7994 (master’s universities) and $21,410 (research universities). Yet these totals generally represent about one-third of total expenditures, a percentage that has remained fairly constant across time. Expenditures in student support categories such as student services (e.g., counseling), academic support (e.g., advising), and institutional support (e.g., administration) were similar in size to instructional expenditures, while research expenditures were also substantial at research universities.
Table 3

Per-FTE expenditure sources by college type, 1998–2013 (US $, inflation-adjusted)

Category (2013 $)

1998

2003

2008

2013

Percent change, 1998–2013

Public research

Total expenditures

33,780

34,380

37,802

39,793

17.8

Instructional expenditures

9562

9860

10,453

10,783

12.8

Research expenditures

4836

5672

5857

6213

28.5

Student support expenditures

6012

6144

7077

7435

23.7

Other expenditures

13,370

12,704

14,415

15,362

14.9

Public master’s

Total expenditures

17,667

17,633

18,945

19,310

9.3

Instructional expenditures

6207

6400

6789

6879

10.8

Research expenditures

388

403

431

426

9.8

Student support expenditures

4652

4954

5321

5518

18.6

Other expenditures

6420

5876

6404

6487

1.0

Public bachelor’s

Total expenditures

N/A

19,121

20,894

20,558

7.5

Instructional expenditures

N/A

6091

6565

6599

8.3

Research expenditures

N/A

510

452

466

−8.6

Student support expenditures

N/A

5617

6145

6218

10.7

Other expenditures

N/A

6903

7732

7275

5.4

Community colleges

Total expenditures

13,366

13,046

14,035

14,090

5.4

Instructional expenditures

5413

5238

5662

5402

−0.2

Research expenditures

57

62

46

58

1.8

Student support expenditures

4147

4088

4497

4383

5.7

Other expenditures

3749

3658

3830

4247

13.3

Private research

Total expenditures

54,174

62,930

68,598

71,597

32.2

Instructional expenditures

17,016

19,370

20,981

21,410

25.8

Research expenditures

9366

11,790

12,182

12,249

30.8

Student support expenditures

12,134

14,596

16,800

17,356

43.0

Other expenditures

15,658

17,174

18,635

20,582

31.4

Private master’s

Total expenditures

19,718

21,081

21,728

22,662

14.9

Instructional expenditures

6789

7252

7529

7994

17.7

Research expenditures

642

660

527

486

−24.3

Student support expenditures

7452

8235

8843

9464

27.0

Other expenditures

4835

4934

4829

4718

−2.4

Private bachelor’s

Total expenditures

26,429

28,508

29,718

29,479

11.5

Instructional expenditures

7811

8610

9112

9060

16.0

Research expenditures

897

860

840

797

−11.1

Student support expenditures

9901

11,071

12,061

12,126

22.5

Other expenditures

7820

7967

7705

7496

−4.1

Note: “Student support” includes student services, academic support, and institutional support. “Other expenditures” includes public service, auxiliary enterprises, scholarships and fellowships, and operations and maintenance. Data on public baccalaureate colleges were not available in 1998

Source: Delta Cost Project

Internal Stakeholders: Faculty, Students, and Administrators

Faculty

In much of the world, faculty employment in universities – at least in the dominant public sector – is shaped to a considerable extent by either civil service laws and regulations or by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by national unions. While employment by the central government in the United States is governed at the national level by federal law and civil service regulations, public employment outside the federal government (including employment of faculty at all of the nation’s public colleges and universities) is regulated by the individual governments of the 50 states. Twenty-six states, most of which are politically conservative, have passed “right-to-work” laws that bar individuals from having to join a union as a condition of employment as of the end of 2016 (National Conference of State Legislatures 2015). More liberal states, on the other hand, have passed legislation permitting their public employees, including university faculty, to bargain collectively on compensation and employment conditions. California and New York accounted for nearly half of the unionized faculty in the United States as of 2012, with other politically liberal states such as Illinois, New Jersey, and Washington having high rates of faculty unionization (Berry and Savarese 2012). The trend in recent years is for more states to move toward right-to-work laws that weaken unions’ power, with Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin all passing right-to-work laws since 2012 (National Conference of State Legislatures 2015).

The situation in the large private sector of American higher education is quite different. Collective bargaining in the private sector is governed by federal legislation and court decisions, but in general tenure-stream faculty at private colleges have been unable to unionize after the US Supreme Court ruled in the 1980 Yeshiva case that faculty were “managerial” employees and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining protections. Full-time non-tenure-track faculty at private colleges can generally unionize, thanks to a 2014 decision of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) (Jaschik 2015), and there are several high-profile campaigns to unionize part-time adjuncts in metropolitan areas (Flaherty 2013), but just 3% of faculty in private colleges were unionized as of 2012 (Berry and Savarese 2012).

The process for hiring tenure-track faculty members was formalized in 1940 through an agreement between the American Association of University Professors (a voluntary association of faculty members) and the Association of American Universities (an institutional membership association representing institutional chief executives) (American Association of University Professors 1940). Tenure-track faculty members are hired for a fixed probationary period (usually 6–7 years) with a high-stake evaluation at the end of this period. If faculty, administrators, and trustees all give a favorable evaluation, the newly tenured faculty member is offered a continuous, presumed permanent appointment subject to dismissal for cause only through peer review and due process (which is relatively unusual). Colleges were allowed to mandate that faculty members retire at age 70 prior to 1994, and the reversal of that provision has contributed to the graying of American faculty as more faculty members continue to teach well into their seventies (Ashenfelter and Card 2001).

Between 1979 and 2013, the number of headcount college and university faculty nearly tripled from 650,000 to almost 1.6 million, largely paralleling in their numbers and distribution the growth and distribution of student enrollment. There were two major shifts in faculty employment over this period (see Fig. 1 below): the tremendous growth in part-time faculty to the point where they now outnumber the full-time instructional workforce and the shift among the full-time faculty from tenured and tenure-eligible to fixed, contract appointments. The surge in part-time appointments is visible across institutional types, although part-time appointments tend to dominate faculty ranks in the 2-year college sector (both public and private) and in the for-profit private sector. In the 4-year sector, part-time appointments tend to be clustered in a handful of fields, including those offering general education (mathematics and English), foreign languages, health sciences, business, and remedial education.
Fig. 1

Percent distribution of faculty by appointment type, 1993–2013 (Source: Derived from tabulation by AAUP Research Office, based on data from IPEDS, released April 2013. Note: Figures are for degree-granting institutions only, but the precise category of institutions included has changed over time. Graduate assistants include teaching and research assistants)

The shift away from tenured and tenure-track appointments began abruptly in the late 1980s and grew quickly to the point where more than half of all new, full-time faculty hires in the past 20 years have been off the tenure track (Finkelstein et al. 2016). Today, only two-fifths of all full-time faculty are tenured or eligible for tenure.

There are several implications of these developments. First, the nontraditional appointments tend to be “specialized,” i.e., teaching, research, or administration only, a departure from the historic, Humboldtian organization of the academic role in the United States involving the integration of teaching, research, and service. Second, off-track, full-time faculty, as well as part-time faculty, tend to assume no role in academic governance at the institutional or even the departmental level. Third, career attrition is three times higher for those who begin their careers outside tenure-track or tenured positions (Finkelstein et al. 2016).

The American faculty ranks have become more diverse in recent decades. Between 1993 and 2013, the number of women faculty members increased to 109.7% from 342,000 to 717,000 along with an increase in full-time faculty of 77.6% from 177,000 to 314,000. The demographic transformation has also included a less dramatic increase in both foreign-born faculty to the point where they now constitute one-fifth of full-time appointments (up from one-seventh 20 years earlier) and in underrepresented minority (URM) faculty to the point where they are now 12.7% of all faculty. Unlike both native-born women and URMs, foreign-born faculty have not been disproportionately located in the part-time and non-tenure-track ranks (Finkelstein et al. 2016).

The fact that American colleges and universities compete with business, industry, and government for the services of the most able faculty in those fields with the greatest economic value outside the academy means that the “market value” of one’s disciplinary affiliation has an important shaping effect on the number of job opportunities, their relative attractiveness in terms of compensation, and the likelihood of landing a tenure-track position and achieving promotion through the faculty ranks. Medicine, business, law, engineering, the physical and biological sciences, and economics boast the highest values, while the humanities and fine arts have the lowest (Bichsel 2016).

Students

Overall, student enrollment grew by 43.1% between 1993 and 2013, from 14.4 million to 20.6 million (see Table 4), surpassed only by China and India. Graduate student numbers grew at a slightly higher rate (52%) than undergraduate student numbers (42%). What is most striking, however, is the changing demographic profile of the US college and university student. Women now constitute the majority of all undergraduate students and are disproportionately represented among part-time college students, who now comprise two-fifths of all undergraduate students. Part-time students also tend to be older than the traditional 18–22 age cohort, are more likely to pursue their studies at 2-year community colleges or in the for-profit sector, and to work – sometimes – full-time as they are pursuing their undergraduate studies. They are also more likely to be pursuing their education through distance learning. While women outnumbered men among graduate students already in 1993, by 2013 their majority had risen to 1.4:1. They earned 46.6% of all doctoral degrees awarded in 2013.
Table 4

Enrollment (in thousands) by level, status, and gender (selected years: 1993, 2013)

  

1993

2013

% Change 1993–2013

% Change 1993–2013

Level

Gender

Full- time

Part- time

% of full-Time

Full- time

Part-time

% of full-Time

Full- time

Part-time

Undergraduate

 

7.0

4.9

58.8

10.7

6.5

62.2

+52.9

+32.7

Male

3.3

2.0

62.3

4.9

2.7

64.5

+48.5

+35.0

Female

3.7

2.9

56.1

5.8

3.8

60.4

+56.8

+31.0

Graduate

 

0.9

1.0

47.4

1.6

1.3

55.2

+77.8

+30.0

Male

0.5

0.4

55.6

0.7

0.5

58.3

+40.0

+25.0

Female

0.4

0.6

40.0

0.9

0.8

52.9

+125.0

+33.3

Source: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Fall 1993 & Fall 2013, Enrollment component. (This table was prepared on February 1, 2017)

Less striking, but substantial nonetheless, has been the diversification of the student body by race and ethnicity. In 1993, about three-fourths of students, both undergraduate and graduate, self-identified as white. By 2013, that proportion had shrunk to 58%. Asian-American representation among both undergraduate and graduate students – already strong – increased by more than 50%. Among underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities, Latinos and those of Hispanic heritage increased their representation at the undergraduate level threefold from 900,000 to 2.7 million and from 68,000 to 197,000 at the graduate level. African-American students doubled their numbers at the undergraduate level from 1.2 million to 2.3 million and nearly tripled at the graduate level from 119,000 to 318,000. The number of foreign-born students, especially from China and India, continues to grow.

Over the past two decades, US undergraduate students have gravitated away from studies in the traditional liberal arts fields (the humanities, social and natural sciences) and toward studies in the professional and vocational fields that are more clearly linked to postgraduate employment prospects. Thus, a larger proportion of students are pursuing studies in business, engineering, the health sciences, and communications (Pace and Connolly 2000; Schuster and Finkelstein 2006). Increasingly, undergraduate students are pursuing “double majors” that combine a professional/vocational with a liberal arts field. Increasingly as well, undergraduate students are pursuing short-term or semester-long experiences abroad.

Administrators

American colleges and universities have seen a dramatic growth in administrative personnel over the past two decades. Table 5 documents the growth in the executive and managerial ranks as well as professional support staff between 1993 and 2013 compared to the growth of instructional/research and service staff. The number of full-time managers has increased by 84% compared to the 50% increase in instructional, research, and service staff. Moreover, the extraordinary infusion of part-time appointments has occurred nearly entirely on the instructional/research as distinguished from the managerial side. Beyond the rapid growth in managerial ranks, there has been even more dramatic growth in the ranks of professional staff. This reflects the growth in areas such as information technology support and instructional design, institutional research, remediation/tutoring, residence life, extracurricular activities, fundraising, and managing relations with external constituencies (Ehrenberg 2012; Desrochers and Kirshstein 2014). These include the new “quasi-academic” professionals whose rise in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe has been widely described by Whitchurch (2004) Macfarlane (2011), Green and Little (2013), and Jones (2013).
Table 5

Staff, by occupation type, status, and gender (selected years: 1993, 2003, 2013)

 

1993

2003

2013

1993–2013 (% change)

Occupational categories

Gender

Part-time

Full-time

Part-time

Full-time

Part-time

Full-time

Part-time

Full-time

Total

 

423,219

994,279

602,153

1,296,261

894,849

1,783,410

111.4

79.4

Instruction/ research/ public service staff

Male

187,714

351,279

262,194

373,378

345,760

436,145

84.2

24.2

Female

163,311

174,676

247,753

241,294

385,011

353,913

135.8

102.6

Executive/ administrative and managerial

Male

2528

76,957

2406

86,669

3013

110,141

19.2

43.1

Female

3084

55,035

3703

86,625

4771

132,884

54.7

141.5

Other professionals

Male

23,248

135,834

31,228

208,494

58,088

305,522

149.9

124.9

Female

43,334

200,498

54,869

299,801

98,206

444,805

126.6

121.9

Note: Primary occupations were reclassified in 2013; therefore, for 2013 the following occupational categories were combined for the “other professional” count: business and financial operations; computer, engineering and science, community service, legal, arts, and media; librarians, curators, archivists, academic affairs, and other education services; and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations

Source: IPEDS, Human Resource Component, Fall 1993, 2003, 2013

Despite efforts at diversification, the managerial ranks remain disproportionately male and white/Caucasian. Women have increased their proportionate representation among college presidents from about 10% in 1986 to 26.4% in 2011. However, while women typically led all-female baccalaureate colleges in 1986, by 2011 they most frequently led 2-year community colleges rather than major graduate universities – a function, in part, of the decline of single-sex institutions (Cook 2012). The proportion of presidents drawn from underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities increased from 8% to 13% during this period, with most minority presidents being in the 2-year community college sector. The dearth of women and racial/ethnic minorities in chief executive ranks reflects their paucity in the ranks of senior academic administrators on US campuses (King and Gomez 2008).

What may be the most distinctive, emerging characteristic of administration in US colleges and universities is the emergence of a managerial/professional staff class with few if any ties to the faculty. It is no longer expected or required for many senior administrators (provosts excepted) to have previous academic experience, and university presidents are increasingly drawn from the political, business, and philanthropic sectors (Birnbaum and Umbach 2001). Even within the academic sector, individuals are pursuing entirely nonacademic career paths in university administration. This is reflected in the growth over the past several decades in the number and size of master’s and doctoral-level preparation programs for careers in higher education administration. According to the Association for the Study of Higher Education, in 2015 there were 194 master’s and doctoral-level programs in higher education administration identified across the United States, nearly double the number in 2000 and nearly three-fourths of all such programs worldwide (Altbach and Engberg 2000; Rumbley et al. 2014).

Other Relevant Issues

The American higher education system is currently undergoing a number of significant changes. In recent years, policymakers have begun to change their focus from an access agenda to a completion agenda. Part of this has been driven by high enrollment rates of recent high school graduates, meaning that most students who wish to attend college already do so. Sixty-eight percent of high school graduates now enroll in college the fall semester following secondary school graduation, up to eight percentage points since 1990; however, there are still large enrollment gaps by race/ethnicity and family income (Snyder et al. 2016). College graduation rates have slowly increased over time, but only about 60% of full-time students who began at a 4-year college graduated from that same college within 6 years (Snyder et al. 2016).

In 2008, the influential Gates and Lumina Foundations set ambitious goals for college attainment rates (Gose 2008; Hebel 2009). President Obama followed by setting a goal in his first State of the Union address in 2009 for America to have a higher percentage of its citizens with a college credential than any other country in the world by 2020 (Hebel and Selingo 2009). The United States now has 45% of adults with college credentials, but America’s rank among the 36 OECD countries in terms of young adults’ college attainment rates fell from third to tenth between 1997 and 2016 (OECD 2016). The earning gap between adults with and without a bachelor’s degree is at an all-time high (Ma et al. 2016b), emphasizing the importance of a postsecondary credential in the American labor market.

At the same time, higher education is becoming more important to economic stability; the price of attending college has significantly increased. Since 1981, inflation-adjusted tuition and fees have quadrupled at 4-year public colleges and more than tripled at 2-year public colleges and four-year private nonprofit colleges (Ma et al. 2016a). Even after taking grant aid into account, 20% of American undergraduate students face annual college prices that are higher than their annual family incomes (authors’ calculations using the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study). About 70% of graduating seniors now have an average of $30,000 in student loan debt (Cochrane and Cheng 2016), while cumulative student loan debt in the United States has reached $1.25 trillion as graduate students’ debt has grown far faster than undergraduate debt burdens (Delisle 2014; Federal Reserve Bank of New York 2016).

A key policy concern over the last several years has been the for-profit college sector, which grew from 300,000 students enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 1997 to over 1.7 million students in 2010 (Snyder et al. 2016). The Obama administration and political liberals took a series of actions against the sector over the last several years in an effort to curtail what they considered to be the worst-performing institutions. After subjecting these colleges to heightened financial and regulatory scrutiny, two of the largest for-profit chains (Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute) closed in recent years, while other for-profits declined in size. The termination of one of the largest for-profit accreditors, as mentioned earlier in this chapter, is likely to have lasting implications for the sector even as the Trump administration is likely to provide regulatory relief.

Federal efforts to increase the oversight of public and private nonprofit colleges have generally been limited in their success (Kelchen, 2018). The Obama administration’s 2013 effort to create a federal college rating system was eventually abandoned in 2015 and replaced with a consumer-friendly college comparison website amid fierce opposition from the higher education community (Blumenstyk 2015). State governments, however, have been working to hold public colleges accountable for their outcomes by tying a portion of government appropriations to performance metrics. These performance-based funding systems are now present in 37 states (National Conference of State Legislatures 2015) even though evidence of their effectiveness is quite limited at this point (Hillman 2016).

Finally, the majority of colleges and universities are having to adapt to an increasingly competitive market for students. Due to the historical development of American higher education, a large percentage of colleges are located in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the country – areas with stagnant or even declining populations of young adults (Cain et al. 2010). This has led to a majority of smaller public and private colleges being unable to meet their enrollment and revenue projections (Hoover and Lipka 2016). The typical private college now discounts its listed tuition by 49% for first-year students (National Association of College and University Business Officers 2016), raising concerns about the viability of small, tuition-dependent nonprofit colleges in the future. Fourteen private nonprofit colleges closed in 2016, the highest number of closures since before the Great Recession (Brown 2017). Public colleges in states such as Pennsylvania may also face mergers or closure as enrollment and state funding levels both decline (Schackner 2017).

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education Leadership, Management and PolicySeton Hall UniversitySouth OrangeUSA