When College Was the Solution: The Golden Age of American Higher Education
Ethan Ris

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Nevada

Primary Discipline

History of Education
Throughout most of the past 120 years, the American college has been perceived as a problem: inefficient, inaccessible, elitist, expensive, retrograde, useless. For roughly three decades during and after World War II, however, college unexpectedly became a key solution to a wide variety of social and political challenges: economic woes, warfare, inequality, and even the preservation and spread of democracy itself. This period, which I delineate as 1944-1972, has been commonly regarded as a situational quirk of history, when the Cold War and the Baby Boom fortuitously collided to create a ââ?¬Å?golden ageââ?¬Â of taxpayer largesse and growing enrollments. In this book project, which is rooted in archival research in many collections, I acknowledge the importance of demographics and geopolitics, but also demonstrate that higher education was far from an obvious solution to the problems they posed. Instead, actors at many levels ââ?¬â?? government, philanthropic foundations, institutional and professional associations, and colleges and universities themselves ââ?¬â?? actively worked to present college as that solution. Their efforts succeeded, paving the way for programs that greatly expanded higher educationââ?¬â?¢s footprint and importance: increased college access, the establishment of new institutions, and the international export of the American college model.
About Ethan Ris
Ethan Ris is an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a 2020 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow. He is a historian of education, with a research focus on policy and reform in American higher education in the 20th century. His scholarship has been published in top journals including the Journal of Higher Education and Teachers College Record. As a co-director of Nevada?s Higher Education Administration program, Ris teaches classes on diversity in higher education, student development theory, and reform and innovation in higher education. He holds a bachelor?s degree from Brown University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, where he was also a Fellow in the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Before graduate school, he was a college guidance counselor at the MET School in Providence, Rhode Island.

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