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EDUCATION. Americans have long invested importance in education as a means of social improvement and individual fulfillment. Education has entailed both formal instruction in schools, universities, and other institutions, and informal learning in a variety of settings. Schools were respected institutions early in American history, and their significance has grown with time. Education and schooling have also been at the center of social and political conflict, often over issues of status and inequality. Schools eventually became instruments of government social policy, utilized to offset historic inequities and to help achieve social justice. Education also contributed human capital to the nation's economy. In the nineteenth century, reformers focused on training reliable workers; in the twentieth century, schools prepared men and women for office and professional employment. At the same time, education has been a vital element of social and economic mobility for generations of Americans.

Historically, the primary schools were the objects of the nation's first great era of education reform. Next came secondary schools, which grew most rapidly during the early twentieth century, and colleges and universities expanded notably in the years following World War II. Schools at all levels have been indispensable to the formation of a national identity for Americans throughout history. From the very earliest stages of the new republic, schools have helped to foster loyalty to the principles of democratic governance, and to the particular tenets of American nationalism. They also have served as a forum for debate over the evolution of these principles.

Education in the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods

The cultivation of skills and the transmission of culture were major concerns of English settlers in North America, evident almost immediately upon their arrival. This was apparent in New England, where early laws called for establishing schools and for educating young men—and eventually young women too. But schools were established elsewhere, along with colleges, to provide avenues of formal education. Schools were fragile institutions in the colonial world, existing alongside older and more familiar agencies of education, the family and the church. Even though there was a high level of rhetorical commitment to formal education in certain colonies, only a minority of youth were "educated" by today's standards.

New England's colonists placed special value on the necessity of moral and religious leadership, and preparing a cadre of educated leaders was considered essential. An early sign of this was the decision to establish Boston Latin School in 1635 and Harvard College a year later. In the wake of religious debates and schisms, other colleges were started in nearby Connecticut (Yale, 1701), Rhode Island (Brown, 1764), and New Hampshire (Dart-mouth, 1769). These were small institutions, enrolling fewer than a hundred students, and hardly represented a well-developed education system.

In 1647, Massachusetts enacted a law requiring towns of fifty families to establish a school, to confound the "Old Deluder Satan" in his never-ending quest to lead Christians astray. Connecticut enacted a similar law just a few years later and eventually other New England colonies did as well, with the exception of Rhode Island. It is unlikely, however, that most towns large enough to be covered by these measures complied immediately, especially if there was not a large number of families interested in establishing a school. Only eleven known schools existed in Massachusetts in 1650, serving some 2,339 households (or one for every 212); by 1689, the number of schools had grown to 23 and households to 8,088 (one for every 352). Even if the quantity of schools increased significantly in the eighteenth century, many children probably attended only briefly, if at all.

In other colonies, schools were even fewer. In 1689, Virginia had only eight schools for more than seven thousand households (or about one for every nine hundred); and New York had eleven for about 2200 families (one for every two hundred). Virginia's William and Mary (1693) was the only southern college of the colonial era. Others appeared in the middle colonies, reflecting the region's religious and cultural diversity. The College of New Jersey (today Princeton) was established in 1746, New York's Kings College (Columbia) in 1754, the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania) in 1755, and New Jersey's Queens College (Rutgers) in 1766.

While the appearance of such institutions was notable, there also was considerable indifference or even hostility to formal education, especially in the South. In 1671, Lord Berkeley of Virginia made this famous statement: "I thank God that there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope that we shall not have these [for a] hundred years." Berkeley, who was governor at the time, echoed the view of many aristocrats and wealthy planters that "learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world." Attitudes such as these no doubt accounted for some of the regional disparities in colonial education.

Schools typically were run by a single teacher, or "master." Outside of Boston, New York or Philadelphia, schools rarely were larger than a single classroom, with perhaps several dozen students. For most colonists, schooling lasted less than seven or eight years, with only four or five months in each term. Students read the Bible, along with spellers, prayer books, catechisms, and other religious materials. The famous New England Primer, first published before 1690, was the best known of a wide range of reading materials used to impart lessons in spelling and grammar, along with morality and virtue. While there were a few legendary teachers, such as Ezekial Cheever of the Boston Latin School, many were college students or recent graduates waiting to be called to a pulpit. Yet other teachers were men of modest education, ill suited for other lines of work, managing schools for lack of better employment. In certain New England towns "dame schools" were run by women, offering classes for young children of both sexes. As a rule, teaching was a relatively low status occupation, even when schools were few and education was considered at least nominally important.

Statistics on literacy seem to confirm the general regional distribution of schools, although it is not clear that reading was always linked to formal education. New England exhibited the highest rates of literacy, as measured by counting signatures on wills. About three-quarters of the male population was literate in the mid-eighteenth century, and nearly 90 percent by the time of the revolution. Literacy rates appear to have been lower in the middle colonies, New York and Pennsylvania, and were the lowest in the South. The male literacy rate in Virginia was about 70 percent by the end of the eighteenth century, comparable to England. The female literacy rate was lower than men's everywhere, although in New England the gap appears to have narrowed by the end of the eighteenth century.

Much of life in colonial society revolved around the family, the central unit of productive activities and a key site of informal education. Families were large and children were expected to contribute to the welfare of each household. Relevant skills and bodies of knowledge, ranging from farming, carpentry, husbandry, and hunting to food preservation, soap making, cooking, and sewing were imparted informally, along with basic literacy. Popular books praised the independence of children, and the virtue of lessons learned away from parents and family. Many families sent older children to board with neighbors or relatives, as a form of apprenticeship and a means of discipline. There also were traditional apprenticeships for young men interested in learning a trade, a practice with deep European roots, observed widely in the colonies. In most cases, formal contracts were drawn up, periods of service were outlined, and lessons were agreed upon. The host household typically provided food, lodging, and other necessities of support in exchange for work, training, and education as specified by the contract. Occasionally there were complaints about cruel or unfair masters who did not abide by such agreements.

A limited number of schools were established to educate Native Americans and Blacks, the principal non-European groups in colonial society. Dartmouth College included a provision for American Indians in its original charter, although this idea was short lived. The Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, or SPG, aimed to convert non-Christian residents of the colonies, particularly Native Americans and Africans. Starting in the early eighteenth century, the SPG dispatched hundreds of ministers and teachers to the New World, opening a number of schools, most of them transitory. It was more effective at printing Bibles and religious tracts that circulated widely in colonial society.

The American Revolution was a watershed event in the early history of American education. The war disrupted many institutions, forcing students to suspend studies and teachers to consider joining one side or the other. More importantly, the revolution led to a new republican sensibility in the former colonies, articulated by a generation of enlightened leaders who believed that education was essential to the new political order. Citizens of a representative democracy, they reasoned, had to be well informed and prepared to critically assess the arguments and opinions of the day.

Education and schooling became topics of discussion and debate, the subject of speeches, addresses, articles, and pamphlets. Thomas Jefferson proposed publicly supported schools throughout Virginia, in a "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge," before the revolution ended in 1779. He believed that free schooling would lead to a "natural aristocracy" of talent and accomplishment, leaders for the new nation. Jefferson's plan was never adopted, but it reflected the new significance attached to education. Benjamin Rush advocated making American children into "republican machines" through improved systems of schooling. Noah Webster advocated universal free education to foster national unity. Webster called for schools to establish "an inviolable attachment to their country" in the minds of children, and urged Americans to "begin with the infant in the cradle; let the first word he lisps be Washington." Early federal legislation for the distribution of public lands, passed in 1785 and 1787, called for a portion of the proceeds to be used for establishing state education systems, including universities. Seven of the new state constitutions also made reference to education, reflecting these concerns.

Among the most important effects of the American Revolution was its impact on the lives of colonial women. Benjamin Rush probably was the best-known proponent of women's education in the years immediately following the revolution. The reasoning was plain: if children needed to be trained in the virtues of republican government, the task of early education would fall to their mothers. Consequently, American women had to be educated, at least enough to read, write, and teach their children moral precepts and principles of republicanism. Historians have labeled this view "republican motherhood," and it contributed to increased interest in women's education during the latter decades of the eighteenth century.

While the colonial era saw limited development in education, the closing decades of the eighteenth century were marked by considerable ferment about it. Revolutionary ideas about state-sponsored systems of schooling, republican socialization, and women's education marked the dawn of a new era. It would take time, and the efforts of another generation of reformers, for these notions to affect the schooling of most Americans.

Education in the Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth century was a time of rapid economic growth and urbanization, an era of institution building, and education was shaped by these developments. Schools became instruments of reform, intended to help redress pressing social problems. State and city systems of schooling came into view, although local prerogatives continued to dictate most educational practices. It was a time when schools and education gradually assumed greater importance, and came to reflect prevailing social divisions and patterns of inequality in American life.

The nation's total investment in education grew dramatically, as more people attended school for greater lengths of time. In 1800, the average American received about 210 days of formal education in a lifetime. By 1850, that figure had more than doubled and by 1900, it had jumped to 1050 days, about half of what it would be in 2000. In the course of these changes, formal education began to assume the familiar dimensions of modern school experiences. Schooling became associated with the cultivation of proper "habits" of industriousness and responsibility, along with essential skills of literacy, numerical calculation, and knowledge of history, geography, and other subjects.

Education in the countryside evolved slowly, but schools developed more rapidly in the cities. Education was linked to questions of poverty and destitution, crime and social conflict. The earliest publicly supported urban institutions were called "charity schools," and were designated for the children of the poor. Started by civic-minded members of the urban middle and upper classes, they imparted proper norms of behavior along with basic lessons in literacy, mathematics, geography, and other subjects. Monitorial schools, modeled on the ideas of English educator Joseph Lancaster, featured a single teacher managing hundreds of children by using older students as "monitors." These and other schools reflected prevailing norms of strict discipline and order. Urban reformers struggled to improve attendance and introduce uniformity into lessons, at the same time that city growth created rising demand for schooling.

Industrialization posed challenges to education. With the advent of child labor, the factory became a school by default, although its lessons were usually quite harsh. While some states passed laws requiring factory owners to arrange for teaching child employees, such measures often were honored in the breach. Some reformers rejected the idea of industry altogether and attempted to establish ideal agrarian societies in isolated communities dotting the countryside. The best known of these communal experiments was Robert Owen's socialist cooperative in Indiana, called New Harmony. Established on principles of shared work and property, and an education system predicated on performing useful tasks without the imposition of discipline, New Harmony was a challenge to long-standing conventions. Although other communal experiments persisted considerably longer than Owen's, their collective influence on the educational system was limited.

Schools in the countryside were isolated and small; classes were conducted for relatively short periods and taught by itinerant masters with little formal training. A typical district school served an area of two to four square miles, populated by twenty to fifty families. These institutions helped to enhance basic literacy skills, but they built on a foundation established by local households. By the early nineteenth century, they literally dotted the countryside in most northern states, serving millions of children. Overall, levels of enrollment were quite high, over 70 percent for children aged nine to thirteen in 1830. Only Germany had higher rates, and by 1880, the U.S. led the world. These figures reflect girls attending along with boys, at least in the Northeastern states and the upper Midwest, another unique feature of American education.

Enrollments notwithstanding, the length of school terms varied, and day-to-day attendance often was inconsistent. There was scarcely any advanced training, as most teachers knew little beyond the "three Rs" and seldom remained in any one place longer than a year or two. Schools generally were ungraded, with children of all ages in the same room and enduring the discomforts of poor ventilation and threadbare accommodations. Discipline was emphasized, with rules enforced by harsh physical punishments. The chief instructional technique was recitation, requiring students to repeat portions of text they had memorized. Schools also conveyed basic mathematical and computational principles, along with a smattering of history, geography, and "moral philosophy." Contests and games, such as spelling bees or multiplication tournaments, helped break the monotony, and storytelling imparted history and geography lessons.

Early reformers were troubled by the variability that existed in the rural schools. They fretted over the haphazard training of teachers, the short terms squeezed between harvest and planting seasons, and the chance provision of such basic school supplies as books and firewood. Reformers also worried about the growing diversity of American society and the possibility of social conflict in the absence of common values and a shared identity. In light of these concerns, and the reforms they inspired, historians have referred to this period as the "age of the common school."

The best-known proponent of common school re-form was Horace Mann, an indefatigable lawyer and state legislator who accepted the newly created post of Secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts in 1837. Like other reformers, Mann worked with a modest salary and little formal authority, traveling widely to proclaim the virtues of common schools. His annual reports, published by the state, became influential statements of educational reform. Mann battled over issues of religious sectarianism in instruction, property taxes for education, longer school terms, and systematic examinations and training requirements for teachers. In particular, he succeeded in persuading the Massachusetts legislature to establish the nation's first publicly supported teacher training institution, called a normal school, derived from the French word normale, in Lexington in 1838.

Mann and other reformers thought that women had a special role to play as teachers. Many believed women naturally suited for this role, due to their supposed maternal characteristics of patience and affection toward small children. Women teachers also cost less than men, even when professionally trained, so their employment could help restrain the expense of reforms. Feminization of teaching had occurred earlier in New England, but proceeded rapidly elsewhere, and by the time of the Civil War a majority of teachers in most northern states were women.

Henry Barnard was a famous contemporary of Mann who held similar appointments in Connecticut and Rhode Island and served as the first U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1867 to 1870. Other leading reformers included John Pierce in Michigan and Calvin Stowe in Ohio. This generation shared a similar set of values and assumptions about schooling and its purposes, much of it derived from their Protestant upbringing and nationalist ardor. Influential textbooks transmitted these values to generations of students, especially the popular McGuffey readers first published in 1836. These reforms found support in the fervent language regarding education in new state constitutions, particularly in the northern tier extending west from New England and the Middle Atlantic States.

Larger cities became sites of battles over the control and content of public schooling. Immigrant religious groups objected to the inveiglement of Protestant precepts and values in most curricula and textbooks, and they demanded support for parochial schools. The best-known conflict occurred in 1842, when New York's Bishop John Hughes challenged local charity school groups, prompting creation of a public board of education. Eventually, parochial schools became quite numerous in many northern cities, enrolling thousands of children and providing an important alternative to public schools.

Another aspect of reform concerned secondary or high schools, which became popular institutions in the nineteenth century. There had been little public demand for secondary schools until after the revolution, as private tutoring and tuition-based academies prepared young men for college and few occupations required advanced schooling. Beginning in 1821, with the establishment of the first public high school, Boston's English High School, American secondary schools, as distinct from a classical grammar school or academy, prepared students for a host of practical purposes. By the end of the nineteenth century, they existed in one form or another in nearly every type of city or large town in the country, enrolling nearly a half million students. The high school had become pervasive, even though it served less than 10 percent of the nation's teenage population.

High schools also featured instruction in some classical subjects, especially Latin, long considered a sign of achievement and status. Most larger public high schools admitted students by examination, and many prospective scholars were turned away. These tax-supported institutions often were quite costly, occupying palatial buildings erected at great expense and with considerable fanfare. This, along with their exclusivity, led to attacks, culminating in a landmark 1874 decision in Kalamazoo, Michigan, upholding the right of school boards to levy taxes to support such institutions. High schools in the United States also generally were coeducational. Advances in women's secondary education were envisioned by such pioneering educators as Emma Willard, Mary Lyon, and Catharine Beecher. While these reformers' influence was limited, and conservatives attacked the idea of coeducation, public support for women's education was high. By the end of the nineteenth century, female students outnumbered males in high schools across the country.

Education in the South lagged behind other regions. This was partly due to the plantation elite, which viewed popular education with suspicion. It also was linked to the legacy of slavery, and concerns with keeping the black population in a condition of servitude. Informal forms of education abounded, from tutoring to apprenticeship and other forms of vocational training. Despite their exclusion from formal education, slave families imparted lessons from one generation to another, transmitting a rich cultural tradition that left an indelible imprint on the region.

Free blacks established schools for their struggling communities, or modified those founded by philanthropic whites. This was true in northern cities before the Civil War, and throughout the South after. The Freedman's Bureau supported thousands of schools in the war's aftermath, providing critical skills and training. Black literacy rates began to improve significantly, and by 1890, nearly two-thirds could read. Even so, inequities abounded. Term lengths in southern black schools stagnated, while those in the white schools began to increase, even approaching the standard of the northern states by the 1890s. Black teachers were paid less than their white counterparts, and were allotted meager sums for textbooks and other supplies. Legal challenges to this were denied in the U.S. Supreme Court case Cumming v. School Board of Education of Richmond County, Georgia (1899). Where there had been some measure of parity during Reconstruction, southern school districts eventually spent as little on black students as a fifth of that expended for whites.

Native American education in the nineteenth century featured a deliberate crusade to alter an indigenous way of life. American Indians had long practiced their own forms of education, a process of acculturation that varied from one tribal group to another. Early schools for Native Americans were established by religious missionaries, intent on evangelizing and introducing basic literacy skills. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), established as part of the War Department in 1824, supervised dozens of schools by 1850, reaching a small fraction of the population. In 1870, programs were run by both the BIA and missionaries, as part of the federal government's "Peace Policy," although government schools eventually predominated. In 1877, there were 150 BIA schools enrolling several thousand students, and by 1900, the number of institutions had more than doubled and enrollments exceeded twenty thousand, representing half the school age population. Certain schools boarded students, the most famous being the Carlisle School, founded in 1879 by Captain Richard Henry Pratt. These institutions attempted aggressive assimilation of American Indian students, but rarely succeeded. Despite these efforts, and an extensive network of BIA schools, Native Americans remained isolated on reservations, and outside the nation's social and economic mainstream.

The nineteenth century is also referred to as the "age of the college." While only a handful of higher education institutions existed in 1800, several hundred others were founded in the next fifty years. Leading state universities were established and other institutions were sponsored by religious denominations. Most fought for survival, competing for students and financial support. The Dartmouth College case, settled in 1819, granted private institutions autonomy from the state legislatures that chartered them. Many colleges offered few advanced courses, however, the rest being "prepatory" classes equivalent to those in academies or high schools. Through much of the nineteenth century, American collegiate institutions were dominated by a classical curriculum and an academic culture shaped by traditions handed down from the colonial period. Latin and Greek represented the core of the curriculum and most classes were conducted by recitation. There were efforts to introduce more scientific, historical, and literary studies. Francis Wayland advocated such innovations as president at Brown, but the Yale Report of 1828, a faculty document defending classical studies, helped to slow widespread change during the antebellum period. Tradition held the classical emphasis to be indispensable; without it, no course of study could represent collegiate standards.

Change was evident, however, in the latter decades of the century. The first Land Grant College Act in 1862, drafted by Vermont congressman Justin Smith Morrill, established support for institutions devoted to practical and scientific study. A second Morrill act in 1890 provided even more support for these state universities. Meanwhile, visionary leaders such as Harvard's Charles Eliot broke the stranglehold of tradition in the collegiate curriculum, introducing a liberal elective system that allowed students to choose courses freely. Scientific research institutes had been opened at Harvard, Yale, and other institutions even before Eliot's reforms, and new research oriented universities were established afterward, with Cornell (1868), Johns Hopkins (1876), and Chicago (1890) leading the way. These institutions were influenced by the German model of higher education, which emphasized research-based learning instead of classical training. Flagship state universities, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and California, also exhibited German influences and attracted professors dedicated to scholarship and research.

Adult education found expression in the lyceum movement, which began in 1826 and within a decade had established more than three thousand local forums for lectures and debates. After the Civil War, the Chautauqua movement sponsored traveling and local exhibitions and lectures, eventually embracing hundreds of local associations. These forms of popular learning continued into the early twentieth century, when their roles were increasingly filled by universities, museums, libraries, and other institutions.

By 1900, the basic elements of a modern education system were in place. Common school reform had established a network of primary schools, public high schools existed in towns and cities across the country, and colleges and universities were widely accessible. Americans attended school at higher rates than in any other nation and engaged in a variety of other educational activities. This keen interest in education would continue in the years ahead.

Reforming Education in the Early Twentieth Century

Education reform appeared in many guises in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Progressive education was identified with such renowned reform figures as John Dewey, Francis W. Parker, and William Wirt, and influenced a small but highly visible cadre of educational reformers. Other school reformers were less idealistic by temperament and more concerned with issues of efficiency and carefully aligning the purposes of schooling with the needs of the economy. High schools expanded rapidly, and colleges and universities also grew.

Progressive educators represented the legacy of such well-known European thinkers as Frederck Froebel, Henrich Pestalozzi, and Johann Herbart. They also were influenced the experiential psychology of William James and the work of Edward Sheldon, principal of the Oswego, New York Normal School. Dewey was the most famous of progressive educators, well known for his work with the University of Chicago Laboratory School, which he founded upon joining the university's faculty in 1894. A leading academic and popular philosopher, Dewey's best-known work on schooling was Democracy and Education (1916). Chicago had become a center for these ideas after Francis Parker arrived in 1883 to head the Cook County Normal School, one of the city's teacher-training institutions. William Wirt introduced "platoon schools" in nearby Gary, Indiana, in 1908.

Women were especially prominent in reform, founding progressive schools and occasionally providing leadership to school districts. Caroline Pratt, Marietta Johnson, and Flora Cook were leaders of innovative private institutions, and Chicago's Ella Flagg Young was among the nation's most important progressive superintendents. Their efforts met resistance, as many educators complained experiential methods did not impart academic skills. Other critics lampooned progressive education as a trendy fad among the social and intellectual elite.

Additional reformers in this period contributed to the emergence of new, centralized, and efficient city school systems between 1890 and 1920. This was a part of a sweeping reform campaign in municipal government, one that attacked the corruption associated with ward-based political regimes. Hundreds of municipalities changed from ward-level school boards and city councils to centralized and bureaucratic forms of governance and administration. Urban school systems came to be run by boards elected from across a community or municipality, and administered by superintendents selected for their experience and professional competence. This gave rise to new bureaucratic forms of school management and control. New organizational forms were adopted, the most important being the kindergarten and junior high schools.

A corollary to this was the development of standardized or mental testing, and school personnel trained in the new subfield of psychological measurement. French researchers Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon devised the first general test of mental aptitude in 1908; Lewis Terman of Stanford University and Edward Thorndike of Columbia University were among the chief American proponents of these techniques. By the latter 1920s, thousands of school districts employed standardized tests to judge student abilities, to justify curricular decisions, or simply to inform teachers and parents.

The rise of the mental testing movement was especially important for children with special needs or learning difficulties. Blind, deaf, or speech-impaired students had been educated in special schools since the mid-nineteenth century. As urban school systems grew, particular courses were established for such students. In 1879, for instance, Cleveland created a class for "feebleminded" children; Boston followed suit in 1898, as did other cities. Eventually, public fears were raised about these children intermingling with the "normal" population, sentiments fueled by pseudoscientific advocates of "mental hygiene" and "eugenics," a term for human perfectibility. Zealous proponents of these ideas issued racist bromides against immigration and the assimilation of minority groups, and even urged the sterilization of "feebleminded" couples.

This also was a time of rapid expansion for the American high school. Enrollments stood at about 300,000 in 1890 (public and private schools combined), and by 1930, the number had increased to nearly 5 million, almost half of the nation's eligible teenage population. Much of this was due to the growing number of institutions: on average, a new secondary school was established every day. The regions leading this expansion were the northern, midwestern, and western states, especially areas with high levels of income and little inequality. Enrollments tended to be higher in communities with fewer manufacturing jobs and smaller numbers of immigrants. On average, high school graduates earned higher wages, an indication of their contributions to the economy.

The general bearing and purpose of secondary education was framed by the "Report of the Committee of Ten," published in 1893. Comprised of university representatives and national education leaders, this group was chaired by Harvard's Charles Eliot, and included William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education. Its purpose was to establish order and uniformity in a secondary education system that included public high schools, academies, private and religious schools, and various other institutions. Twenty-five years later, a second national report was issued by the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education of the National Education Association, chaired by Clarence Kingsley. Widely known as the "Cardinal Principles Report," this document outlined a broad range of social and academic purposes for the high school. It provided a vision of the "comprehensive high school," embracing vocational and academic curricula and uniting students in a common commitment to democratic citizenship. This would serve as an important American ideal for decades to come.

Specialized secondary curricula were developed for women and blacks. Ellen Richards, a chemist and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's first female faculty member, helped to launch a distinctive academic field called "home economics." In high schools home economics became a way of defining women's roles through training in "domestic science" and socialization in prescribed standards of conduct. At the same time, commercial education, training in stenography, typing and bookkeeping, became popular among women interested in office employment.

Due to limited opportunities, fewer than 5 percent of eligible black students were enrolled at the secondary level at this time, most of them in private schools supported by tuition, local donations, and northern philanthropy. Public high schools were established throughout the south for whites. Between 1905 and 1920 more than five hundred were established, making secondary schooling accessible across the region. By contrast, in 1916 only fifty-eight public high schools for African Americans existed in fourteen southern states, just twenty-five in the former Confederate states. Many of these schools featured a curriculum focused on manual trades and domestic science, reflecting the influence of Booker T. Washington, the period's most famous black educator. W. E. B. Du Bois was an outspoken critic of Washington, advocating high academic standards for a "talented tenth" of black students.

Nationally, post-secondary education continued to expand. Overall enrollment climbed from about a quarter million in 1900 to more than a million in 1930, representing more than 10 percent of the age group. The number of female students grew even faster, from less than 40 percent of the student body in the 1890s to almost half by the twenties. These developments infused new verve into campus life. Fraternities, sororities, and dating became popular, especially after 1920, along with spectator sports such as football.

There was a decided shift in the university curriculum, and a new utilitarian disposition was signaled by the appearance of professional schools and institutes. Nineteenth-century legal and medical training had been conducted by private schools or individuals; after 1900 universities began acquiring these institutions, or developing their own, and awarding degrees to their graduates. Similar arrangements were made for the preparation of engineers, social workers, and other professionals. The first university programs to provide training for business also appeared, offering courses in accounting, finance, management, marketing, and similar subjects.

The growth of higher education also led to new types of institutions. Among the most important was the junior college, a two-year school intended to offer preparation for higher study, later called community colleges. These schools first appeared in the West and the Midwest, numbering some two hundred by the 1920s, but enrolling less than a tenth of all undergraduates. Other more popular forms of higher education also flourished, among them municipal colleges in the larger cities and private urban universities, many of them religious. State-sponsored normal schools gradually expanded their purview, and began to evolve into state colleges and universities. These institutions served local students, providing baccalaureate education along with a variety of professional programs. Altogether, the range of higher education alternatives expanded appreciably, accounting for much of the increase in enrollments.

By the close of this period, much of the creative energy of progressive education had dissipated. Due to the Great Depression, the 1930s were years of fiscal distress for many school districts, particularly those in larger cities. Programs were cut, especially extracurricular activities and such "frills" as music and art. At the same time, high school and college enrollments increased as youth employment opportunities disappeared. World War II, on the other hand, pulled students away from the schools to serve in the military or work in war industries. Neither episode provided an environment for educational reform. Many of the developments of earlier decades remained in place, such as standardized testing, the comprehensive high school and the new research-based and utilitarian university. Yet, the impact of other reform ideals, particularly those of Dewey and his progressive allies, was less enduring.

Education in Postwar America

Among the most striking features of the latter twentieth century was the growing importance attached to formal education, both as a matter of public policy and as a private concern. The federal government became a source of funding, and education developed into a major issue in national politics. At the same time, more Americans attended school, as enrollments climbed at all levels of the educational system, but especially in the nation's high schools and colleges.

In the 1950s schools expanded rapidly, straining resources with the postwar "baby boom." A number of prominent academics and journalists criticized progressive education, linking it in the public mind with failure in the schools. This was partly due to the climate of the Cold War and suspicions that progressive educators were "soft headed" or left-leaning. It also reflected perceptions of a lack of discipline in American children, particularly teenagers. When the Russian Sputnik spacecraft was launched in 1957, many attributed American failures in the "space race" to shortcomings in the schools. This led to passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, boosting federal support for instruction in science and mathematics.

The major events in postwar education, however, revolved around questions of race and inequality. The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregated schools to be inherently unequal, was a milestone of national educational policy and in popular thinking about social justice. The decision was the culmination of a series of legal challenges to segregated education undertaken by the NAACP in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. It immediately led to vows of non-compliance by southern politicians and educators. Consequently, desegregation proceeded slowly but gained speed in the following decade, when compliance was linked to federal school funding. Civil rights activists waged local battles against segregation and educational inequality, first in the South and later in the North, where de facto segregation was widespread. De jure policies of separate schooling ended, but overall patterns of segregation proved much harder to change.

The changing racial and ethnic composition of the nation's principal metropolitan areas exacerbated these issues. With the migration of millions of blacks after World War II, big city public schools systems became divided along racial lines. Despite the principles of integration and equity embodied in the "Brown" decision and the efforts of liberal-minded educators, growing inequalities in education came to characterize metropolitan life. Because of residential segregation, school resources were also spatially distributed, a point that eventually became contentious. Schools in black neighborhoods tended to be overcrowded, with larger classes and fewer experienced teachers than schools in white areas. Migration to the suburbs, widely known as "white flight," also made it difficult to desegregate city schools. Between 1960 and 1980, the country's suburban population nearly doubled in size, making urban desegregation an elusive goal.

Civil rights organizations issued legal challenges to de facto patterns of school segregation, charging school districts with upholding segregation to avoid aggravating whites. A series of federal court decisions in the latter 1960s and early 1970s articulated a new legal doctrine requiring the active pursuit of integrated schools. In the landmark case of Swan v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971), a federal district court established mandatory bussing of students as a remedy to residential segregation. In sub-sequent years, desegregation plans requiring bussing were implemented in scores of cities, most of them by order of federal or state authorities. These decisions were supported by research, particularly a national survey under-taken in 1966 by sociologist James Coleman, finding that integrated schooling produced high achievement levels in minority students. The Supreme Court's 1974 Miliken v. Bradley decision, however, limited the impact of desegregation plans by prohibiting bussing across district lines, effectively exempting most suburban communities.

Meanwhile, education became an integral part of Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." In 1965, he sponsored the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), dramatically expanding federal assistance to schools. Title 1 of this legislation provided resources to schools with high numbers of poor students, to address inequities. Other educational initiatives begun under the Johnson administration included Head Start, a preschool program aimed at children from poor families. By 1972, more than a million children were enrolled in the program and studies showed that it boosted academic achievement.

Legislation addressing inequality and discrimination extended to other groups of students. The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 provided funding to schools serving the nation's 3 million students who did not speak English as a primary language. In 1970 the Office of Civil Rights issued guidelines requiring districts where such students constituted more than 5 percent of the population to take "affirmative steps" to meet their needs. At about the same time a series of court cases challenged the principle of separate classes for special education students, a group that had grown rapidly in the postwar period. In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was signed into law by President Gerald Ford. With this measure, the federal government required school districts to provide these students with free and equitable schooling in the least restrictive environment possible. Similarly, the National Organization of Women (NOW) included a provision in its 1967 Women's Bill of Rights calling for "equal and unsegregated education." Five years later, Title IX was included in ESEA, declaring "no person … shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." School districts responded most visibly in the area of women's athletics. The 1970s witnessed a five-fold increase in female participation in competitive sports, although change in other areas was much slower.

The post-World War II period also witnessed significant change in higher education. An influential Harvard faculty report in 1945 advocated flexible curricula under the heading "general education," and a presidential commission on higher education in 1949 presciently argued the need for greater capacity. By 1970, enrollments had quadrupled to more than 8 million. Early growth was due to the GI Bill, which provided tuition benefits to veterans, but the major source of new students was the affluent postwar "baby-boom" generation, a third of whom eventually enrolled in college. The number of institutions did not increase significantly, but the size of campuses grew dramatically. Colleges dropped any pretense of governing the daily living habits of students, even those residing on campus, creating a fertile field for alternative lifestyles and cultural practices. It also opened the door to widespread sexual freedom. The Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969), limiting the ability of schools to control student self-expression, extended many of the same freedoms to secondary students.

Perhaps more important, the large concentrations of young people with little supervision abetted the development of political organizations, and students became conspicuous participants in both the civil rights and antiwar movements. The latter was based largely on campuses, and came to a head in the spring of 1970, when four students were killed by national guardsmen at Kent State University. Yet other protests focused on curricular issues, leading to a number of new courses, departments, and programs. The most important of these were African American (or Black) Studies and Women's Studies programs, but there were others as well.

All of these developments helped to make education a contentious national political issue. Bussing plans produced heated reactions from white urbanites. Others believed the schools had drifted away from their academic mission, and that the universities cultivated protestors. The Supreme Court's 1978 Bakke decision, barring quotas but allowing race to be considered in university admissions, further polarized public opinion. In 1980, promising to end federal involvement in education, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan vowed to remove the U.S. Department of Education as a cabinet position. It was a promise that remained unfulfilled, however. A national commission's 1983 report on the schools, "A Nation at Risk," further galvanized support for federal leadership in strengthening the education system. These concerns led George H. Bush to campaign as the "education president," even though he proposed little change in policy.

In the closing decades of the twentieth century, American interest in formal education reached historic highs. With public expenditures on education (in constant dollars) more than doubling since 1960, by 1990 there was growing interest in student performance on tests of scholastic achievement. As the economy shifted away from manufacturing, rates of college enrollment among secondary graduates increased from less than 50 percent in 1980 to nearly two-thirds in 2000. Spurred by the women's movement and growing employment options, the number of female students increased even more rapidly, after lagging in earlier decades. At the same time, vocational education programs considered integral to the comprehensive high school were increasingly seen as irrelevant.

Growing disquiet about the quality of public education contributed to movements to create "charter schools," publicly supported institutions operating outside traditional school systems, and "voucher" programs offering enrollment in private institutions at public expense. These and other "choice" or "market-based" alternatives to the public schools were supported by Republicans, keen to challenge existing systems and to undermine Democratic teacher's unions. By 2000, there were more than two thousand charter schools in communities across the country, with states such as Arizona and Michigan leading the movement. Voucher experiments in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and a few other cities have not produced decisive results.

In the 2000 presidential election, candidates Albert Gore and George W. Bush both placed education policy initiatives in the forefront of their campaigns. This was a historic first and an indication of the heightened significance of education in the public mind. Bush's narrow victory in the election was at least partly due to his calls for greater accountability in schooling at all levels. Passage of federal legislation re-authorizing ESEA, popularly known as "Leave No Child Behind Act," established testing programs as a requirement for receiving federal assistance. Even though this was a natural extension of the "systemic reform" initiatives undertaken by the Clinton Administration, encouraging state testing regimes, it marked a new level of federal involvement in the nation's school system.


American education has changed a great deal since 1647, when Massachusetts passed its first school law. The reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries helped to establish a comprehensive education system extending from the primary school to the university. The ferment of the postwar period revolved around issues of equity and excellence, as ever more Americans attended some form of school. Much has been accomplished, however. Many of the most abhorrent inequities have been narrowed considerably. As a result of past struggles there is considerable parity in black and white education, despite persistent segregation and achievement gaps. Gender differences have diminished even more dramatically. This is not to say that problems do not exist. The United States is host to a new generation of immigrants, and battles have been waged over bilingual education and other cultural issues; but the outlook is bright, as Americans still exhibit a firm commitment to education as a means of providing opportunity. That, more than anything else, is the principal legacy of American education, and its great hope for the future.


Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Angus, David L., and Jeffrey E. Mirel. The Failed Promise of the American High School, 1890–1995. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999.

Axtell, James. The School upon a Hill: Education and Society in Colonial New England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974.

Cremin, Lawrence Arthur. American Education; the Colonial Experience, 1607–1783. New York, Harper and Row, 1970.

———. American Education, the Metropolitan Experience, 1876–1980. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

———. American Education, the National Experience, 1783–1876. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

———. The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876–1957. New York: Knopf, 1961.

Kaestle, Carl F. Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780–1860. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

Levine, David O. The American College and the Culture of Aspiration, 1915–1940. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Lockridge, Kenneth A. Literacy in Colonial New England: An Enquiry into the Social Context of Literacy in the Early Modern West. New York: Norton, 1974.

Ravitch, Diane. The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945– 1980. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

Reese, William J. The Origins of the American High School. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995.

Rury, John L. Education and Social Change: Themes in the History of American Schooling. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.

Tyack, David B., and Elisabeth Hansot. Learning Together: A History of Coeducation in American Schools. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990.

———. Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820–1980. New York: Basic Books, 1982.

Tyack, David B; Thomas James; and Aaron Benavot. Law and the Shaping of Public Education, 1785–1954. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.

Veysey, Laurence R. The Emergence of the American University. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1965.


See alsoCarlisle Indian Industrial School ; Charity Schools ; Chautauqua Movement ; Dame School ; Dartmouth College Case ; Indian Boarding Schools ; McGuffey's Readers ; New England Primer ; andvol. 9:Massachusetts School Law .

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When people think about education, they gradually think about the traditional school, and about their own personal experience. Education functions in all settings of modern society, however, and educational forms have changed over the years. During the industrial revolution, the advent of formal education undermined the authority of older people because older people's knowledge of farming, rural life, and crafts did not prove useful to young people working in factories in growing cities. During the mid-twentieth century, the first gerontologists saw lifelong learning as a rare experimental program and worried about the loss of the educational function of grandparents. Parents worried about entrusting their children's education to their own parents, fearing they would be out of touch with the rapid pace of social change. As retirement became commonplace and longevity provided more healthy years of leisure, many older persons looked for educational opportunities through special programs and at institutions of higher education. The advent of the information age brought many older persons into learning again with computer technology, though this time it was often grandchildren helping grandparents learn the new technologies.

Trends in years of schooling

The education gap between younger and older adults in the United States is closing. For example, the gap in median years of education for those age twenty-five to thirty-four and those fifty-five and over shrank from 4.4 years in 1947 to 0.2 years in 1991 (see Figure 1). The improvement for older adults came rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s, reflecting the growth of public education in the first decades of the twentieth century. More than half of the young adults in the United States had completed twelve years of education by 1952, while it was 1979 before half of the older adults had achieved this level. The gap between men and women in median years of education has nearly disappeared for all age groups, especially for young adults.

Until the 1930s, a typical childhood pattern of education involved completing the sixth grade and then going to work. Many Americans never attended high school. Since 1940, rates of finishing school before high school graduation have decreased while rates of graduating high school (or higher levels of education) have increased. Until the late 1950s it was uncommon for middle-aged people to have completed high school. Since 1990, rising college enrollment has led to a drop in the percentage of adults who only graduate from high school. The percentage of young adults who finished their schooling with high school declined from 44 percent in 1973 to about 31 percent in 2000, but has remained steady in the 1990s for older adults. At the turn of the twenty-first century similar proportions of young adults had completed their schooling with some college (28 percent) or had completed a college degree (29 percent). Older adults will reflect this trend of increasing educational attainment by the middle of the twenty-first century.

The statistic of median years of schooling hides a lot of variation in educational attainment among racial and ethnic groups. Wide differences remain, and gender differences linger among older persons in various racial and ethnic groups. The gap is closing for high school completion rates, and gender differences barely exist at this level. High school graduation rates for whites remained above 80 percent in the 1990s, while rates for blacks stayed above 70 percent after 1993. Although 1980 census figures showed two-thirds of Hispanics completing high school, from 1990 to 2000 the rates remained below 60 percent, reflecting the recent immigrant status of many Hispanics. Asian and Pacific Islander men have the highest levelsup to 88 percent completed high school in the 1990sand women in this category hovered around 80 percent.

Similar trends in college degree completion show differences between the genders in racial and ethnic groups. The gender gap is most extreme for older adults (see Figure 2). Asian and Pacific Islanders have the highest level of college degree completion among U.S. groups, with men around 32 percent and women above 15 percent. For other older men, whites have a college degree completion rate of 23.2 percent, while Hispanics are at 9.3 percent and blacks are at 7.5 percent. For other older women, the frequency of college completion is: whites, 12 percent; blacks, 8.3 percent; and Hispanics, 5.3 percent.

Although 30 percent of older adults (compared to 10 percent of younger adults) in the United States still lack a high school degree, the education gap is shrinking rapidly. A gap persists at the higher-education level due to an expansion of opportunities since the mid-twentieth century, and minor regional differences persist. High school completion levels for those age twenty-five and over were highest for the Midwest (87 percent) and lowest for the South (82 percent). When baby boomers reach retirement, the education gap will begin to close. Older people in Europe and Japan are generally not as educated as their counterparts in the United States.

Differences remain for members of minority groups in the United States, but these are not uniform. Non-Hispanic blacks have a lower level of educational attainment by all measures, though the rate for black women exceeds that of black men. Asians have the highest education rates, while Hispanics are often the least educated at all ages, despite both these groups having recent immigrant status. These cultures are more patriarchal and strongly favor the education of men. Elizabeth Vierck reports that, in the United States, one in ten people over age sixty-five speaks a foreign language at home. Gender differences for older adults persist in Asian and non-Hispanic whites, although they appear to be fading. In the developing world, however, education levels among older women are generally low or nonexistent.

The impact of education

Education is a significant factor in aging. It is modestly related to income and strongly related to occupational prestige, both of which lead to better health care throughout life, a key to the enjoyment of later years. Ronald Manheimer reports that "education is associated with increased participation in politics and the electoral process, more aggressive health-seeking behavior, different styles of consumerism, and the desire for lifelong learning" (p. 45). Further, "education must prepare the individual not only for the tasks of early and middle age, but for those of old age as well" (Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick, p. 336). Arguing from a developmental perspective, Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick advocate more practical courses in public schools, and they stress knowledge of the aging human body as an aid in maintenance and long-range survival.

Education has been linked to maintaining self-esteem, developing leadership abilities for volunteer roles, and empowering older people as health care consumers. Helena Lopata, famous for her studies of widows, reminds us that education helps people cope with loss. By providing the skills to develop friendships and commitments to voluntary associations, education links people to sources of support during periods of adjustment.

Health and economic dependency vary significantly with educational attainment. Comfort in interacting with doctors and adherence to treatment regimens come from greater learning. Obtaining work that supplies health benefits is usually contingent on completing high school or college. Having greater income for proper nutrition and regular preventive health care is also associated with higher education. These factors set up differences in longevity related to education. Because racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage are linked to differences in education and economic resources, longevity varies by these categories as well.

Lifelong learning

Interestingly, while years of education and life have increased more than 150 percent since 1900, the percentage of life that Americans spend in an educational setting has remained at around 17 percent. People now participate in education in more mixed patterns, however, with cyclical or blended variations occurring throughout the life course. As the baby boomers aged during the 1980s, there was a drop in the number of young people entering college, and many community colleges began to open their doors to older adults. The bulk of adults over sixty-five are enrolled in community colleges, primarily studying part-time in public institutions. Computer technology and corporate downsizing also sent many older adults back to school for retraining in the 1980s. Older women significantly outnumbered older men in college and graduate school at the end of the twentieth century.

The increase in leisure time in later life and the explosion of higher education after 1950 fueled the growth in life-long learning. Elderhostel emerged in the 1970s to provide short-term (typically weeklong) educational opportunities for people age fifty-five and older. It began with five campuses and 220 participants in 1975, and in 2000 there were over 270,000 hostellers participating in over 10,000 Elderhostel programs in over seventy countries. In 1988, twenty-four established Institutes for Learning in Retirement (ILRs) collaborated with Elderhostel to form the Elderhostel Institute Network, a series of permanent programs at sponsoring college and university campuses involving noncredit courses and activities staffed by older volunteers. In 2000 there were over 225 such ILRs in the network, providing over 3,000 courses a term to 52,000 network members. In 1992 a service program began with opportunities such as teaching English, archaeological digs, and building affordable housing throughout the world. In conjunction with the Institute Network, the typical college campus offers three or four courses of considerable variety and takes advantage of local attractions with extracurricular activities during the week of Elderhostel. A typical Elderhostel week includes three different classes taught by college professors and various field trips in the evening to local interest sites. For example, "Music in the Big Band Era," "The Many Cultures of Texas," and "Feminist Theology," tours at a local dairy farm, a lake outing, and a visit to a historic house might constitute a week's offerings.

SeniorNet is an organization that began in the 1980s to help older persons take advantage of the information age. It focuses on computer technology instruction and establishing learning communities online. Through small lab sites, often donated by businesses, volunteers teach about computer software and the Internet. According to Mary Russell and Laura Ginsburg's report for the National Center on Adult Literacy, SeniorNet's success comes from characteristics of good online learning communities: its learning environment uses nonformal (and informal) models of learning; it embraces a vision of adult learning and development attuned to social, psychological, and political dimensions; its instructional model is interactive and generative, acknowledging the experience older learners bring to classes; and its social construct supports collective and participatory communication. Diversity and outreach remain special challenges.

Countless local programs are emerging in response to the interest in involving older people in formal education. Grants from the Funds for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) have helped traditional liberal arts colleges develop programs to stimulate young people by involving retired professionals in regular classes. Foster Grandparents programs and Retired and Senior Volunteer programs place volunteers in elementary schools for tutoring. Many volunteer associations consider education a significant part of their mission. AARP sponsors driver education courses that assist older persons with insurance deductions and improve road safety.

Public policy has supported education for older citizens through a variety of statutes enacted since passage of the Older Americans Act of 1965. In addition to statutes addressing adult, technical, vocational, and bilingual education, various laws have supported older veterans, displaced homemakers, and women. These enactments stress the importance of education for productive life and service.

The benefits of education are many. Older adults know this and are pioneers in the new era of lifelong learning. The education gaps between young and old are becoming a thing of the past, and a traditional age for learning is fading with them.

Janet Huber Lowry

See also Leisure; Life Course; Volunteer Activities and Programs.


Erikson, J. M.; Erikson, E. H.; and Kivnick, H. Vital Involvement in Old Age. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

Kaplan, M. "Adult Education as Part of a Leisure Program." In Handbook of Social Gerontology: Societal Aspects of Aging. Edited by C. Tibbitts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Koff, T. H., and Park, Richard W. Aging Public Policy: Bonding the Generations, 2d ed. Amityville, N.Y.: Baywood Publishing Company, 1999.

Lopata, H. Z. Women as Widows: Support Systems. New York: Elsevier, 1979.

Manheimer, R. J., ed., with North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, University of North Carolina at Asheville. Older Americans AlmanacA Reference Work for Seniors in the United States. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Inc., 1994.

Smith, M. C., and Pourchot, T., eds. Adult Learning and Development: Perspectives from Educational Psychology. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998.

Vierck, E. Fact Book on Aging. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1990.

Yntema, S., ed. Americans 55 & OlderA Changing Market. Ithaca, N.Y.: New Strategists Publications, Inc., 1997.


Elderhostel, Incorporated.

National Center for Health Statistics. "Life Expectancy." Available at

Russell, M., and Ginsburg, L. "Learning Online: Extending the Meaning of Community: A Review of Three Programs from the Southeastern United States." National Council on Adult Literacy (NCAL) Technical Report TR9901. Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania for the Southeast, and Islands Regional Technology in Education Consortium, 1999. Available at

SeniorNet Organization.

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In the 1960s many young people in the United States were inspired to pursue aerospace-related careers because of the U.S. commitment to send humans to the Moon. Universities saw an influx of enthusiastic students ready to take on the challenges of the Apollo program. Six Apollo Moon landings brought twelve astronauts to explore the lunar surface. But Moonwalkers are prehistory to students in the twenty-first century. Consequently, universities today put forth the challenge of a human mission to Mars to attract students.

Rapid advances in technology and computers have influenced more students to pursue courses of study in the sciences and space-related engineering and technology programs. Many computer experts who lost their jobs in the crash of the "dot-com" industry subsequently explored the field of aerospace engineering. Even if students do not decide on a space-related career, an aerospace engineering degree provides them with a wide variety of employment choices.

What are these students looking for in a college or university? They not only want a good selection of courses in the fields of their interests, but students also want exposure to innovative research in the field. Colleges and universities are addressing these needs largely by building valuable relationships with space-related organizations, aerospace companies, government agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and other colleges and universities. Internships are frequently beneficial experiences for students, and often lead to employment opportunities at the sponsoring facility.

How Universities Attract New Students to Space Sciences

The public affairs departments at some universities have realized the potential of promoting their students' and professors' accomplishments. A good example of this is the University of Arizona in Tucson, which sends out weekly press releases about discoveries made by faculty and student astronomers using their Kitt Peak Observatories and astronomical spacecraft.

A university whose graduates become astronauts or known in a field of space science or aerospace engineering is also a pull for students. This is not only true for the University of Arizona at Tucson, but also the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, and Purdue University, among others.

One of the opportunities Purdue University affords both its graduate and undergraduate students is the chance to be a part of a tight-knit academic community with top professors in the aerospace field. This personal attention makes their program a popular one with students. Purdue claims to have produced more astronauts than any other university.

A New Array of Space Courses

Many colleges and universities have expanded their degree programs and course offerings in the fields of space sciences, astronomy, and Earth sciences to attract more students, as well as professors and research grants. The future holds a vast array of space-related careers. For example, space tourism in the decades to come will require a wide range of careers, and students at Rochester Institute of Technology are getting ready. In the departments of hotel management, food management, and travel programs, students are enrolled in what is likely the world's first college course on space tourism.

Promoting Space in Universities

National Space Grant Consortium.

One of the most effective programs for bringing more space research and related projects, as well as funding, to universities is NASA's National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. This program funds space research, education, and public service projects through a network of consortia in each of the fifty states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Each state's space grant consortium provides the students with information about local aerospace research and financial assistance. They also develop space education projects in their states. Some space grant projects, such as the one at the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU Boulder), involve students in current space missions. Students at CU Boulder are monitoring a spacecraft from their own mission control room on campus. At the Colorado School of Mines, students can enroll in courses on space resources and work with former and current NASA experts.

Universities Space Research Association.

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a private nonprofit corporation formed under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. All member institutions have graduate programs in space sciences or aerospace engineering. Besides eighty-two member institutions in the United States, there are two member institutions in Canada, two in England, and two in Israel.

USRA provides a mechanism through which universities can cooperate effectively with one another, with the government, and with other organizations to further space science and technology and to promote education in these areas. A unique feature of USRA is its system of science councils, which are standing panels of scientific experts who provide program guidance in specific areas of research. Most of USRA's activities are funded by grants and contracts from NASA.

Universities Worldwide

The International Space University (ISU), through both its summer courses and its permanent campus in France, has made major contributions to establishing new curricula. It draws the top students worldwide, because their professors are leading figures from space-related industries, government and international organizations, and universities around the world. ISU students come to the university with their specialist backgrounds and broaden their perspectives through increased knowledge in other relevant fields. Another example of international efforts to attract students is found at Saint Louis University at its Madrid campus in Spain, whose aerospace program has drawn students from abroad to study in St. Louis, Missouri.

Student Space Competitions

Universities are also involved in efforts to reach out to younger students and expose them to space sciences. Space-related projects and competitions for kindergarten through twelfth-grade students sponsored by a university member of the National Space Grantor in collaboration with other organizations such as the National Space Society, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, the Space Foundation and the Planetary Societycan make an impression on students that will influence their career decisions much later.

The experience of being involved in science fair projects also provides students with a sense of ownership and interest that lasts throughout their careers. Many university scientists and engineers, as well as experts from aerospace companies, are involved in helping and judging science fairs.

Through space-related professional organizations like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the aerospace division of American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, universities are providing opportunities for students to submit papers and projects to be judged by experts in the field. These competitions, which are held at the organizations' conferences, provide an avenue for building relationships with aerospace professionals, as well as other students. These relationships can form an essential network of colleagues as students launch into their careers.

NASA and other organizations sponsor an array of design projects for students of all ages. Projects can include flying their experiment on a KC-135 airplane that provides 25 seconds of microgravity at a time. Other competitions involve designing space settlements and Moon and Mars bases.

NASA's Commercial Space Centers

NASA's commercial space centers are a consortia of academia, government, and industry who partner to develop new or improved products and services, usually through collaborative research conducted in space. The NASA Space Product Development office manages 11 of the 17 centers that perform research in the areas of biotechnology, agribusiness, structure-based drug design, and materials research. Topics of interest at the centers include space power, satellite communication networks, remote sensing , mapping, microgravity materials processing, medical and biological research and development, crystallography , space automation and robotics, engineering, space technology, and combustion in space.

see also Career Astronauts (volume 1); Careers in Astronomy (volume 2); Careers in Business and Program Management (volume 1); Careers in Rocketry (volume 1); Careers in Space (volume 4); Careers in Space Law (volume 1); Careers in Space Medicine (volume 1); Careers in Space Science (volume 2); Careers in Spaceflight (volume 3); Careers in Writing, Photography, and Filmmaking (volume 1); International Space University (volume 1).

Barbara Sprungman


Sachnoff, Scott, and Leonard David. The Space Publication's Guide to Space Careers. BethSpace Publications, 1998

Internet Resources

NASA Commercial Space Centers. <>

National Space Grant Consortium. <>

Universities Space Research Association. <>

ELV See Launch Vehicles, Expendable (Volume 1).

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Education, United States Department of

United States Department of Education, executive department of the federal government responsible for advising on educational plans and policies, providing assistance for education, and carrying out educational research. It was established (1867) as an independent government agency and then transferred (1869) to the Dept. of the Interior as the Bureau of Education. In 1939 the bureau, by executive order, was transferred to the Federal Security Agency, which in 1953 became the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare. It became an independent department in 1979. Within the Dept. of Education are offices of elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, special education and rehabilitative services, bilingual education and minority languages, vocational and adult education, civil rights, and educational research and improvement. The department also administers funds for Gallaudet and Howard universities, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the American Printing House for the Blind.

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