Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century

Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century

Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century

Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century


This book tracks the dramatic outcomes of the federal government's growing involvement in higher education between World War I and the 1970s, and the conservative backlash against that involvement from the 1980s onward. Using cutting-edge analysis, Christopher Loss recovers higher education's central importance to the larger social and political history of the United States in the twentieth century, and chronicles its transformation into a key mediating institution between citizens and the state.

Framed around the three major federal higher education policies of the twentieth century--the 1944 GI Bill, the 1958 National Defense Education Act, and the 1965 Higher Education Act--the book charts the federal government's various efforts to deploy education to ready citizens for the national, bureaucratized, and increasingly global world in which they lived. Loss details the myriad ways in which academic leaders and students shaped, and were shaped by, the state's shifting political agenda as it moved from a preoccupation with economic security during the Great Depression, to national security during World War II and the Cold War, to securing the rights of African Americans, women, and other previously marginalized groups during the 1960s and '70s. Along the way, Loss reappraises the origins of higher education's current-day diversity regime, the growth of identity group politics, and the privatization of citizenship at the close of the twentieth century.

At a time when people's faith in government and higher education is being sorely tested, this book sheds new light on the close relations between American higher education and politics.


During the twentieth century, political leaders and university officials turned to one another with increasing frequency in order to build an expansive national state and educational system. They abandoned their shared tradition of laissez-faire relations and forged a powerful partnership that transformed the country’s plural system of colleges and universities into a repository of expertise, a locus for administrative coordination in the federal government, and a mediator of democratic citizenship. Slowly during the interwar period, then rapidly after World War ii, the state and higher education joined forces to fight economic depressions and poverty, to wage world wars hot and cold, and to secure the rights of previously marginalized Americans. Ironically, at the very moment the partnership reached its peak in the 1960s, it turned sour, only to reconstitute itself, if in a different form, following the conservative political ascendance of the 1980s. Between Citizens and the State tells this story.

To date, scholars have only captured a sliver of the relationship between higher education and the American state. This book advances the literature on the emergence of the American university beyond the rise of the professions and the growth of the federal-academic research matrix. Without question the ascendance of large-scale scientific research during World War ii radically altered the nature of federal-academic relations, and it is exhibit a in the birth of what some scholars call the “proministrative state.” But the emphasis on “big science,” and the handful of elite institutions and experts that produced it, has concealed other developments in state-academic relations that occurred outside federally funded labs before and after World War ii. Throughout the last century, state policymakers and academic administrators turned the nation’s colleges and universities into multipurpose institutions that not only produced cutting-edge defense and medical research but also mediated access to democratic citizenship for millions of Americans.

Why has higher education’s role in twentieth-century American life been so narrowly drawn? There are two reasons. One is the scholarly fixation on the . . .

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