Inspired by Fortune’s “100 Great Things About America” and in celebration of our nation’s birthday tomorrow, I set out to come up with a list of things that make American Higher Education truly “American.”
Be it The Big 10 or the SEC, American collegiate athletics has no rival. Alumni or not, we Americans love our college teams.
Closely akin to the big-time college athletics enterprise, the American collegiate marching band is in a league of its own. From dazzling fans at games to invoking fear in rival teams via menacing cadences, the American collegiate marching band is a tour de force.
Despite recent calls for increased specialization, top schools in the U.S. have historically championed a liberal style of learning and broad education. With a nod to founding father Thomas Jefferson, American higher education has long considered it its mission to educate well-rounded, independent thinking citizens for their future role in a democratic republic.
The Community College
America was built upon the notion of equal opportunity and no where is that ideal more alive than within the community college. Founded in the early 20th century in response to a need for a more vocationally skilled workforce, community colleges helped propel America into global economic dominance. Today, with open admission policies community colleges remain a beakon of equal opportunity for all who seek to better themselves through education.
Still chaffing under the edicts of a highly centralized British government, our founding fathers ratified the the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution- providing that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constituion, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or the people. Education has ever since been under the direct purview of the States.
The Land Grants
With the signing of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, higher education became a nationwide imperative. The establishment of the land grant institutions (an unprecedented concept) meant that every citizen in the United States had a public higher education institution in his or her home state.
The “keep it local” approach is as American as apple pie. The American regional accreditation system was borne of the need for quality assurance in the absence of federal regulation. Today, the regional accrediting agencies review and accredit nearly 3,000 colleges and universities.
Love em’ or hate em’ the panhellenic societies are just as much a part of the American higher education experience as football games, FAFSA and degree audits. Their exclusivity and historically upper-class membership remind us that America, although hailed as the land of equality, can often be a contradiction in terms.
Happy Fourth of July to you and yours!