Geiger (Higher Education/Penn State Univ.; Tapping the Riches of Science: Universities and the Promise of Economic Growth, 2007, etc.) offers an encyclopedic history of American colleges and universities, ending as the United States entered World War II.
Although anecdotes and brief case studies punctuate this thick book, Geiger goes broad rather than deep. The twelve chapters unfold mostly chronologically, starting with the opening of Harvard College in 1636 (other sections include “Colonial Colleges, 1740-1780,” “The Low State of the Colleges, 1800-1820,” “Land Grant Colleges and the Practical Arts” and so on). For about 250 years, the saga features almost exclusively white males from well-to-do families. Women barely figure in the chronology until Page 400, at which point Geiger treats their plight, and eventual advancement, in a fascinating but frustratingly brief section. Racial and ethnic minorities are almost entirely absent. The lack of such narratives aside, Geiger ably parses the influences of general society on institutions of higher learning and vice versa. Colleges in what became the United States began in the Colonial era, influenced by Great Britain, mostly isolated in rural areas and sending students into a pre-industrial economy. Geiger demonstrates the shift in curricula to help serve an increasingly urbanized nation with a more industrialized economy. All that might sound inevitable—even obvious—but the author shows that the inevitable did not unfold without effort. He is especially eager to explain the development of a "college culture," the pressures that led to somewhat democratizing land-grant campuses and emergence of universities devoted to applied and theoretical research. The rise of schools within campuses to train physicians, lawyers and ministers is an additional thread that Geiger integrates into the bigger picture.
A well-researched, detailed tome probably best consumed at the rate of one chapter per day.