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DIT Conference: Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions

Prestige, Reputation, and Mission Diversity in U.S. Higher Education:
The Buick and The Mercedes-Benz

Peter Eckel, Director, Programs and Initiatives, American Council on Education, USA

Abstract for the conference ‘Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions’, 25-27 June, 2007, Dublin.

U.S. higher education is well-recognized for its mission diversity. 4,194 degree-granting colleges and universities serve over 17 million students through a robust mix of two- and four-year public, private nonprofit and private for-profit universities and colleges.

This diversity is reinforced by a key set of American beliefs and artifacts, including belief in limited government, a constitution silent on education, diverse funding streams and mission-based accreditation. However, under the surface of this diversity exists a tension between prestige and reputation that in the past has been tempered by public policy and adequate public funding. This tension is being strained given current trends in state and federal policy, funding and competition that are promoting market priorities over public purposes, particularly access and affordability, and creating an uneven playing field for diverse institutions.

This paper provides an overview of U.S. mission diversity, identifies key trends affecting it, and explores ways in which market forces might better advance public objectives and support mission given the growing influence of the market and less influential role of direct policy intervention.