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Higher Education in America Essay

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Updated: May 3rd, 2019


The American higher education has undergone a significant transformation over the past century. This is evident based on the numerous anniversaries that most American colleges and universities have conducted to celebrate the ascent in the education sector at the beginning of the 21st century (Thelin, 2011, p. 363).

However, the emergence of contemporary developments experienced the end of the first decade of the 21st century has dampened these achievements. Some of the challenges that universities and colleges are facing relate to financial constraints, decline in donor funding, and state appropriations. For example, students’ financial programs were caught up in congressional debates with regard to renewal of grants and loans program (Thelin, 2011, p. 363).

Additionally, the American higher education has also experienced a decline in federal support with regard to university-based research and development. This has been worsened by an increment in the intensity of competition for fixed allocation with regard to grants from national agencies for example the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute for Health (NIH) (Thelin, 2011, p. 364).

The occurrence of the recent global economic recession presents a new set of financial challenges to institutions of higher learning in the US. This paper entails a reflection on various changes that have influenced reconfiguration of American higher education in the 21st century. The paper also considers demographics, diversity, and research in universities to be some of the issues that have had the greatest impact on higher education.

Additionally, an analysis of the influences of past eras on the present-day higher education has also been conducted. To develop a better understanding of the reconfiguration of American higher education, an evaluation of how these issues are affecting higher education today is also taken into account. A number of recommendations to deal with the identified challenges are also outlined.


Several changes are critical when it comes to the American higher education. One of the major changes that have influenced reconfiguration of higher education in the US relates to an increment in the number of initiatives, which aim at stimulating change within the education system.

The initiatives developed are because of the global economic and political transformations. Considering the dynamic nature of the society, there is a high demand for leaders who can effectively deal with the challenges facing the society in different spheres. One of the ways through which economies can achieve this is by ensuring that their higher education system is in line with changes occurring in the society.

The initiatives developed have resulted to significant changes within the American higher education during the 21st century. One of the most notable impacts of these initiatives is the emergence of the national education reform movement during the 1st decade of the 21st century. Examples of these initiatives include the Race to the Top (RTT), Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the Degree Qualification Profile.

The objective of these initiatives was to stimulate reforms, which would improve the American higher education. Because of the initiatives, the American higher learning education has undergone significant transformation at various levels such as institutional, programmatic, departmental, and classroom levels.

There has also been an increment in the number of partnerships between higher learning institutions in America and other countries. For example, the American government has collaborated with Latin American countries such as Costa Rica in an effort to stimulate economic growth besides nurturing sustainable manufacturing. Despite this, the American higher education system is experiencing an overload because of the numerous initiatives.

As a result, higher learning institutions are not able to effectively analyze the most effective initiatives. If higher learning institutions do not keep up with the changes that are occurring, then there is a high probability of the intended goal not to be achieved. The initiatives are not spread even across the university. This is worsened by an increment in diversity within the higher learning institutions.

Another factor that has influenced reconfiguration of American higher education relates to an increment in the number of new entrants. The new entrants have been motivated by the fact that most individuals perceive higher education as a change for attaining their intended growth. However, most of these institutions are profit oriented. For example, approximately 1.8 million students in the US were enrolled in 2,800 for-profit making higher learning institutions between 2008 and 2009.

This shows that there is a considerable green population in America (Bennett, Lucchesi & Vedder, 2010, p. 3). The third factor that has stimulated reconfiguration of higher learning in America relates to diversity amongst students. Currently, the student profile has increasingly become diverse as students from different cultural backgrounds characterize it.

The US higher education is also facing a significant transformation emanating from the change in the country’s demographic profile. Currently, the US is the third largest populous country globally with 4.5% of the world’s total population living in the US (Shrestha & Heisler, 2011, p. 1).

During the 1st decade of the 21st century, the US higher education sector could best be described as ‘growth industry’ evidenced by the fact that the total student enrollment in approximately 3,000 institutions increased to 16 million. By 2010, it was projected that total student enrolment could be more than 20 million (Thelin, 2011, p.369).

Studies conducted with reference to the US higher education reveal that the sector is experiencing epistemological transformations, increment in innovative ideas and research discoveries. One of the factors that have contributed to this change relates to change in the composition of the student body profile.

Because of the increment in the rate of enrollment, there were significant reconfigurations with regard to the student’s demographic profiles, which ultimately resulted in the reconfiguration of the learning institutions’ administrations and faculties (Thelin, 2011, p. 369). In an effort to ensure that the country’s leaders are well prepared to take care of the responsibilities facing them, the American higher education has since its inception acknowledged the element of social diversity.

Over the past few years, the rate of enrollment of students who were in the past underrepresented in American higher education institutions is increasing at a higher rate compared to that of non-Hispanics (Frazier, Howard, Banks& Kellogg, 2009, p. 4).

Studies conducted reveal that it is inevitable for higher learning institutions in the US to avoid change in the students’ demographics in the future since the inclusion of the element of diversity in the higher learning institutions. According to Frazier, Howard, Banks, and Kellogg (2009, p. 6), there has been a dramatic transformation with regard to undergraduate student profile in America. The student profile has increasingly become ethnically and racially diverse.

For example, the student profile is composed of Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans (Thelin, 2011, p. 369). Considering these demographic changes, the American higher education institutions face a challenge of ensuring that they take into account the change in the students’ demographic profile.

One of the ways through which they can achieve this is by modifying their curricular, developmental, service, and programmatic offering. Additionally, administrations of higher learning institutions have an obligation to ensure that they promote research within their institutions.

Analysis of the main issues influencing higher education and their impact Change in profile of students

The American higher education is also greatly being impacted by change in the student profile. Over the past few years, there has been a rampant increase in the number of minority group enrollment within the higher learning institutions. For example, universities and colleges located in New Mexico, California, Texas, and Arizona have experienced an increment in the rate of Latino and Hispanic undergraduate student enrollment (Thelin, 2011, p. 369).

This means that higher education institutions have undergone cultural, ethnic and racial transformation. These students have become a very vocal and visible constituent of the institutions. One of the factors that have promoted the change in the student profile is growth in the rate of migration across states and increased geographical mobility. The resultant effect is that minority groups have over the recent past ceased to be perceived as being a regional component but rather a core component of student enrollment.

The change in the student profile within the higher education has led to the elimination of some factors that were evident within the higher education system. However, this has occurred because of the increased advocacy by the minority groups (Thelin, 2011, p. 370). This is done in pursuit of equal opportunities within the higher education system.

Because of the increased diversity amongst students, higher education stakeholders such as policy makers face the responsibility of ensuring the necessary curricular advancements and improvement to student services. Additionally, the policymakers face an uphill task of ensuring that they offer progression and professional development that is in line with the students’ needs. This illustrates that change in the student profile will significantly affect the American higher education.

Increased diversity amongst students has also led to significant change of policy with regard to the provision of financial aid to students. One of the ways through which this has occurred is the increased competition between private lenders and the federal government. Competition from private lenders aimed at ensuring that they get a share of the loan market. However, this led to marginalization of students in accessing welfare (Thelin, 2011, p. 270).

For example, during the period ranging between 2006 and 2010, the student financial aid program was characterized by numerous controversies. Some of these controversies arose from a change in national priorities.

For example, many financial institutions that were required to provide financial assistance to students offered lucrative amounts to the federally subsidized students at the expense of ensuring that they made college affordable to a new generation of college-going students of different backgrounds whose families had a modest income (Thelin, 2011, p. 370).

Research in Universities

During the 1970s, different faculties in universities experienced increased pressure to conduct research (Smart & Paulsen, 2011, p. 241). This represented a significant change from mid-1800s whereby universities’ core focus was on instruction. Over the 20th century, universities rapidly shifted towards research. As a result, they would receive substantial funding from the federal government for research purposes (Smart & Paulsen, 2011, p. 241).

During this period, the federal government undertook 95% of research funding in universities. However, this has changed during the 21st century. Currently, universities are facing increased competition for sponsored research grants from the federal government. This holds because of the new entrants into the sector.

In an effort to achieve grants, the new entrants are promoting themselves as research institutes. This represents a new corporate model for higher institutions. According to Thelin (2011, p. 377), one of the main reasons why university administrations are competing for grants is not to promote research but to create a new source of revenue to ensure that their institutions operate smoothly.

As a result, most university faculties are mainly concerned with writing research grant proposals in an effort to increase the volume of their grants (Thelin, 2011, p. 379). Upon receiving the grants, most universities do not commit the funds to their intended function, research, but rather divert the grants to cater for other costs.

For example, substantial proportion of the grants are used to reimburse the institution’s research foundations for their effort drafting the grant proposal, catering for indirect cost incurred, and for adhering to federal and institutional regulations (Thelin, 2011, p. 379). In addition, if the universities do not receive the research grants from the federal agencies, they usually draw from other budgetary lines from within the university in order to cover the cost incurred in preparing the grant proposals.

If this trend is not dealt with, there is a high probability that universities will not achieve their objective of developing a strong human capital. This arises from the fact that they will not be able to transform the university into research-based institutions.

In awarding grants, the federal agencies evaluate the universities success with regard to peer review and assessing universities, which have showed successful record of accomplishment in the past. This presents a major challenge to new universities that apply for grants because it becomes extremely difficult to access the grants to recover their venture cost (Thelin, 2011, p. 379).

Another reason why research in universities is being affected arises from the fact that most federal agencies are changing their priorities. During the 21st century, it has become extremely difficult for universities that had earlier received research grants to renew their contracts in the future.

This means that there is a high probability of research in universities becoming dampened. From 2000 to 2010, there has been an increment in the degree of risk and expenses associated with research grants. This is because of increased innovativeness with regard to competition for grants.

For example, in an effort to access grants, large scale projects such as the science-related ones are stressing on multi-disciplinary cooperation with other faculties such as bioengineering, biochemistry, neurosciences, and biogenetics amongst others. On the other hand, traditional departments such as botany, geology, and chemistry remain uncompetitive.

The multidisciplinary cooperation leads to a rise in the universities administrative cost because they have to put in place new physical and administrative structures. The cost incurred is committed to the institutions recurrent administrative expenses (Thelin, 2011, p. 380).

Studies conducted reveal that it will be relatively difficult for universities to sustain the cost arising from their increased proliferation of their research institutes and centers. The competition for research grants will have adverse impacts on the American higher education (Thelin, 2011, p. 380).

Influences of past eras on present-day higher education

Since its inception, the American higher education has been on growth. Past eras have had significant influences on higher education to date. This is evidenced by the fact that past eras developed a tradition of commitment towards higher education. As a result, there has been both qualitative and quantitative transformation with regard to the higher education. For example, most universities have improved their program offering.

Additionally, the precedents that were set by traditional institutions have significantly transformed the higher education, for example, by ensuring that student enrollment is increased. Past eras also initiated transitions such as ensuring diversity within the learning institutions.

The resultant effect is that higher education in America is characterized by a diverse student profile. Additionally, past eras have also ensured that universities become centers of excellence. One of the ways through which this has been achieved is by promoting research in universities.

Conclusion and recommendation for change

In conclusion, based on the detailed expositions made in the paper, it suffices to declare the American higher education as one that has encountered the inevitable change. The paper has sought to unravel the mystery behind the evident changes besides giving a detailed analysis of how the changes have influenced the entire American system since its inception.

For example, the growth in the student profile means that universities will have to adjust their programs in order to cater for the students’ needs. Additionally, the decline and increased competition for grants means that universities have to cater for research cost from other avenues. Considering the challenges affecting higher education, it is paramount for universities to ensure that they remain as institutions of excellence.

There are a number of issues, which they should take into consideration. To ensure that initiatives developed result to the attainment of the intended goal, university policymakers should enhance their initiatives so that they can be well understood by all the parties. One of the ways through which this can be achieved is by organizing seminars. It is also important for policymakers to include community role models who are successful in their careers.

This will aid in motivating students to excel in their faculties. To sustain such initiatives, it is paramount for universities to fund the role models. Universities should also ensure that they utilize research grants for the purpose they are intended. Additionally for research in universities to be successful, it is critical to include the concept of teamwork. The teams should be derived from different departments and disciplines.

Reflective Journal

From the coursework undertaken, the most engaging assignment was on the changes occurring within the American higher education specifically with regard to the trend in research. Currently, universities within the American higher education are experiencing a challenge in an effort of becoming centers of excellence. This is due to the financial constraints that institutions of higher learning are facing. The financial constraints arise from a decline in research grants from both the federal government and other agencies.

The course has been very enlightening especially with regard to the growth of the American higher education. Additionally, I have also learnt that investing in research is vital for the success of higher education and hence the country’s economy. From the knowledge gained, I will be able to advocate for proper use of research grants in higher learning institutions. This will result to proper utilization of research grants by universities.

Reference List

Bennett, D., Lucchesi, A., & Vedder, R. (2010). For-profit higher education: Growth innovation and regulation. Washington: Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Frazier, C., Howard, R., Banks, B., & Kellogg, J. (2009). Shifting students demographics and their impact on a Midwestern higher education institutions’ transformation: Preparing for change. Minnesota: University of Minnesota.

Shrestha, L., & Heisler, E. (2011). The changing demographic profile of the United States. New York: Congressional Research Service.

Smart, J., & Paulsen, M. (2011). Higher education: Handbook of theory and research. Dordrecht: Springer Science.

Thelin, J. (2011). A history of American higher education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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