Higher Education in America: An Institutional Field Approach

W. Richard Scott
Year of publication: 
Session topic: 
Conceptualizing the broad-access sector in the context of US higher education

Regarded by some as the most successful industry in the U.S., the sector of higher education in this country has succeeded in important ways. A 2008 study conducted in China evaluating 500 of the world’s universities found that 17 of the 20 most distinguished research universities were in the U.S., as were 40 of the top 50! (Cole 2009). In popular discourse, the sector is often treated as if it were entirely composed of research universities (e.g., the Harvards, Michigans, and Stanfords) and the elite colleges (e.g., the Wellsleys, Oberlins, and Reeds). This in spite of the fact that the research universities, comprehensive colleges, and baccalaureate colleges make up only about 30 percent of the educational providers in the sector.