Professionalization of College Management

  • Education
  • 1903

John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were not direct competitors in industry, but in a sense they were in their philanthropy. In many areas, however, they were in close agreement and exerted complementary influences. One such shared influence was in encouraging the professionalization of higher education.

In the Rockefeller-Carnegie era, philanthropic resources were extremely important to colleges and universities. For example, the assets commanded by Rockefeller’s General Education Board in 1909—$53 million—were then equal to one fifth of the endowments at all American colleges and universities put together. Philanthropy also overshadowed annual public funding.

Rockefeller and Carnegie (along with compatriots like George Eastman, Mary Garrett, Leland Stanford, James Duke, and others) were thus well-positioned to encourage changes in the structure of higher ed. This happened in specific areas—like Rockefeller pulling medical education into the modern era, Garrett hastening coeducation at Johns Hopkins, and Carnegie improving professor pay and qualifications. It also happened in broad management.

Donor advocacy and funding required colleges to become much more businesslike by 1930. At leading private schools, nearly three quarters of trustees by that time were founders or managers of businesses. They brought with them a strong interest in improving efficiency, and expanding the customer base for college education. The academic professionalism and corporate organization that eventually propelled American higher education to the very top internationally is to a considerable degree the legacy of this philanthropy.

  • John Thelin, A History of American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011)