High Five: Emergent Nation Era

Presenting our second installment in our series reviewing the important points or “High Fives” in the history of American higher education. If you’re just joining us, you can find out more about the High Fives and see the Colonial Era High Five here.

The Emergent Nation Era of higher education is marked by great expansion. With the opening of the west joined by the philosophy of manifest destiny and deep optimism, anything seemed to be possible in this new nation. Enjoy this week’s High Five!

Emergent Nation Era

History Higher Ecuation


 1819 – The Dartmouth college case settled the nature of public vs. private charters and impacted the rise of the American business corporation and the free American enterprise system (p. 66).

 1839 –Georgia Female College opened as the first women’s college (p. 76).

1828 – Yale Report is written in which the president and some professors from Yale defend the teaching of ancient languages and the liberal arts based on psychology and views of human thought instead of religion (p. 83-84).

1830 – Scientific and Literary course at Columbia, a non-degree granting program.

1862 – Homestead Act gave millions of acres to anyone who would settle, leading to increased Westward migration (p. 60). 

History of Higher Edcuation

People and Players

Benjamin Rush – published a proposal for a federal university to prepare people for public service (p. 66).

Eliphalet Nott – president of Union College, an example of strong enlightened leadership, was able to introduce a forward thinking curriculum allowing for different requirements. His efforts led to increased enrollment.  He was also responsible, through personal contribution, for making the college the most endowed institution of the era (p. 85 & 95).

Josiah Quincy – president of Harvard starting in 1829.  He suggested that a curriculum modeled on the past was not sufficient and that parallel courses of study should be created including courses centering on science (p. 86).

Francis Wayland – president of Brown who advocated for more courses, professional curriculum, certificate programs for those who did not complete four years, and awarding degrees based on the successful completion of exams (p. 89-90).

Women – Women began going to the university, despite anti-female prejudices. However, the curriculum developed for them was fundamentally around having a family and a home (p. 65,76). 

History of Higher Education

Contextual & Historical Events

 Opening of the West /Louisiana Purchase – doubled the size of the country and each new territory and state set up new colleges based on what they had seen in the east (p. 57-58).

Increased Immigration from other European countries – led to large populations of other religious denominations who wanted to set up their own colleges – Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, etc (p. 60-61).

Manifest Destiny – territorial expansion encouraged conflicts, social reform movements, entrepreneurship, and the growth of business, churches and education (p. 62-63).

Social Reforms­ – Movements for civil and social rights began including cries for abolition, temperance, moral development of the conditions in mental intuitions and prisons (p. 61).

Growth – This time was marked by the development of more college institutions, religious observances, businesses, and land and development opportunities (p. 60). 

  History of Higher Education

Economic Data Points

Low tuition – tuition was low enough so that “students from all but the most destitute families could attend” (p. 72)

Low Pay – College salaries were low and sometimes just a small sum above room and board. But these low salaries helped to keep the colleges running (p. 80 & 97)

Land – states were willing to donate land to institutions, but the land was often not worth much when sold (p. 96-97)

Fundraising Campaigns Colleges collected money from as many donors as they could attract. Presidents would raise funds or sometimes even faculty would go out to find donations. (p. 95)

State Support – Some states gave tax exemption or even cash to help subsidize education (p. 96). 

  History of Higher Education


Myth of the Age was individual betterment – if you did not “better yourself” from where you were born, then there must be something wrong with you (p. 62).

Marketing the College – The increase in the number of colleges and the struggling nature of 19th and 20th century colleges created a need for marketing, or attracting students. Marketing focused on the safety of rural life, escaping influences of the city, opportunities available to students. All claims were primarily anecdotal (p. 69 & 77).

Student Groups–  dedicated students  were interested in study beyond the curriculum and pursued their interests through student clubs, groups and societies. Examples include: literary clubs, debating societies and fraternal organizations (p. 75).

Career Ladder – towards the end of the era a strata of faculty ranking developed and the notion of career advancement and specialization grew (p. 80).

Development of a Culture of Adolescence – With large groups of students living together, they developed their own codes and ways of behaving.   University life was different and more stringent than home life, and students often acted out.  Delaying entry into adulthood and its responsibilities became socially acceptable (p. 102).

Compiled by: Chelsi Cannon, Allison Davis, and Peggy Duguid

Cohen, A. M. & Kisker, C. B. (2010). The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the contemporary system (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Image Source: The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 1863 by Albert Bierstadt.


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