Shaping Educational Access and Economic Opportunity through State Colleges and Universities, 1945-1970
Marc A. VanOverbeke

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Northern Illinois University

Primary Discipline

History of Education
Between 1945 and 1970, the nation’s comprehensive colleges—state colleges and regional universities—evolved and helped to “democratize” education by providing opportunities for more students to get a college degree. By the 1970s, these institutions awarded one-third of the nation’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees and educated the majority of the country’s schoolteachers. As such, they proved to be integral to the social ambitions and economic aspirations of Americans, who increasingly saw a college degree as a route to economic mobility and success. This study documents the history of these institutions, most of which began as teachers colleges, technical schools, or agricultural colleges. It examines their evolution into multipurpose colleges in the postwar years, the purposes and missions they embraced, the relationships they forged with other parts of the educational structure as they expanded access, and the social and economic opportunities they provided. By emphasizing these institutions and the ways in which Americans embraced them, this study provides an important lens for understanding the shifting demands that Americans placed on education after World War II. As they developed in this period, state colleges struggled with questions that continue to challenge educators and others today: who should benefit from advanced education; how should the nation provide a strong education to all who seek it; what does it mean to have a college education; and what should be the relationship between a college degree and economic mobility, for example? This study suggests avenues for thinking about and answering these questions, since it emphasizes the historical factors and contexts that gave rise in the postwar years to the institutional dynamics that continue to shape access and attainment today.
About Marc A. VanOverbeke

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