Redefining the Collegiate Way: The Rise of State Colleges and the Expanding Conception of the College Experience, 1890-1930
AuthorSmith, Timothy P.
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For over two hundred years, the college experience in the United States was defined by the traditions of historic eastern college, such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. This model of the college experience came to be seen as elite, private, and eastern. Representations of college life in popular novels reflected this idea and served to subtly reinforce the position of these colleges as the torchbearers for American higher education. However, as public higher education proliferated in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the dominance of such a narrative began to be challenged. With the passage of the Morrill Land–Grant College Act in 1862, the college experience was now open to reinterpretation because of the markedly different missions of state colleges as well as the new types of students who attended them. The expanding conception of the college experience was reflected in the changing popular representations of college life, specifically in the films of the 1910s and 1920s, ultimately providing the American public with an alternative view of higher education. In practice, students at emerging state colleges created social worlds that had elements of the traditions of the historic eastern colleges, but were also reflective of new ways of experiencing college. For example, Greek fraternities and big-time football became hallmarks of the state college experience, while such activities never had the same level of support at older institutions. The presence of women also distinguished life at state colleges, as most public institutions were coeducational from their creation. This study argues that the rise of state colleges fundamentally altered the conception of the college experience in America, as students from a wider range of social backgrounds entered college with a variety of goals in mind.
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