Book Reviews

Book by Arthur M. Cohen
Review by Laura R. Pittman
Academic Advising
Ball State University


Although understanding the history of higher education within the United States is not imperative for good advising, it does allow academic advisors to understand an academic “past” that continues to shape and mold universities in the 21st century.  Arthur M. Cohen’s The Shaping of American Higher Education is an extensive (450+ page) history that traces the development of higher education beginning with Colonial America in the 1600s through the 1990s.  

Those connected professionally to a college or university will find portions of the text interesting and engaging. Administrators (particularly those connected to Admissions) may find it interesting to know that the need to market education developed as early as the 1800s with colleges printing brochures and catalogs highlighting their finer points.  Those advisors who teach and/or serve as faculty members may be most interested in Cohen’s thorough development of the trends related to faculty and curriculum including the influences toward change (German universities, state involvement, occupational demands, social conditions, student population, etc.).  Although other texts have focused on the Student Affairs aspects of colleges and universities, this book does offer a fairly comprehensive look at student life and briefly highlights events that defined student life at particular points in history, e.g., the suffrage movement, the Depression, military drafts, the G.I. Bill, civil rights movements, communism, and activism related to environmental issues.  

Advisors and administrators who interact with students’ parents, will find the author’s inclusion of family expectations related to sending a child to college engaging. Cohen notes that the Colonial Era’s family expected colleges to “enforce behavior that the boy’s parents might not have been able to instill” and “take charge of the boy’s life” (p. 23).  The Emergent Nation Era (1780-1869) ushered in the idea of “youthful independence” which included hazing, disrespect of professors, an indifference to academics, and a defined life-stage called adolescence. “Delaying entry to adulthood with its attendant responsibilities was now acceptable.  Those colleges that acted as surrogate parents fostered the development of a culture of adolescence” (p. 96).  The author later outlines the 1986 court case that essential ended the concept of in loco parentis, noting it was “inconsistent with the objectives of a college education” and allowed that universities could not “babysit every student” (p. 331).

For the professional advisor, the aspect most obviously absent from Cohen’s history is any mention of academic advising. Certainly advisors will find the book historically interesting, and the future trends and issues outlined in the final chapter will impact (or already do impact) the students who attend our institutions. But this is not a quick read, and the length alone may cause many readers to merely browse through the sections of interest. The practitioner looking for a history that includes academic advising (even in discussions related to curriculum or faculty), will be disappointed as it is not included here.


The Shaping of American Higher Education: Emergence and Growth of the Contemporary System, (2007). Book by Arthur M. Cohen. Review by Laura R. Pittman. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 512 pp. $40.00 (paperback). ISBN # 978-0-7879-9826-4
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