A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy Of American Higher Education by David F. Labaree

A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy Of American Higher Education

byDavid F. Labaree

Hardcover | April 21, 2017

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Read the news about America’s colleges and universities—rising student debt, affirmative action debates, and conflicts between faculty and administrators—and it’s clear that higher education in this country is a total mess. But as David F. Labaree reminds us in this book, it’s always been that way. And that’s exactly why it has become the most successful and sought-after source of learning in the world. Detailing American higher education’s unusual struggle for survival in a free market that never guaranteed its place in society—a fact that seemed to doom it in its early days in the nineteenth century—he tells a lively story of the entrepreneurial spirit that drove American higher education to become the best.
And the best it is: today America’s universities and colleges produce the most scholarship, earn the most Nobel prizes, hold the largest endowments, and attract the most esteemed students and scholars from around the world. But this was not an inevitability. Weakly funded by the state, American schools in their early years had to rely on student tuition and alumni donations in order to survive. This gave them tremendous autonomy to seek out sources of financial support and pursue unconventional opportunities to ensure their success. As Labaree shows, by striving as much as possible to meet social needs and fulfill individual ambitions, they developed a broad base of political and financial support that, grounded by large undergraduate programs, allowed for the most cutting-edge research and advanced graduate study ever conducted. As a result, American higher education eventually managed to combine a unique mix of the populist, the practical, and the elite in a single complex system.
The answers to today’s problems in higher education are not easy, but as this book shows, they shouldn’t be: no single person or institution can determine higher education’s future. It is something that faculty, administrators, and students—adapting to society’s needs—will determine together, just as they have always done.

About The Author

David F. Labaree is professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, The Trouble with Ed Schools and Someone Has to Fail.  
The Trouble with Ed Schools
The Trouble with Ed Schools

by Mr. David F. Labaree


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Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling
Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling

by David F. Labaree


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Details & Specs

Title:A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy Of American Higher EducationFormat:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:April 21, 2017Publisher:University of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022625044X

ISBN - 13:9780226250441

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

1 A System without a Plan: Elements of the American Model of Higher Education
2 Unpromising Roots: The Ragtag College System in the Nineteenth Century
3 Adding the Pinnacle and Keeping the Base: The Graduate School Crowns the System, 1880–1910
4 Mutual Subversion: The Liberal and the Professional
5 Balancing Access and Advantage
6 Private Advantage, Public Impact
7 Learning to Love the Bomb: America’s Brief Cold War Fling with the University as a Public Good
8 Upstairs, Downstairs: Relations between the Tiers of the System
9 A Perfect Mess

Editorial Reviews

“American higher education evolved under pressures (and opportunities) from multiple sources, not under a single authority. Labaree provides a fine review of this history, showing how it generated a great and expansive dynamism. Applying this perspective to the present situation, he shows how the apparent disorder of current higher education can be seen as enabling continuing adaptation rather than breakdown. His ideas will be of great interest to all those concerned with the evolution of higher education in this country.”