Inside Higher Ed interviews Christopher Loss on higher ed. reform

Historians in the News

Between gainful employment, talk of revamping the role of accreditation, interminable budget wrangling over Pell and student loans, and President Obama's State of the Union declaration that colleges and universities are "on notice" with regard to costs and outcomes, the complex and evolving relationship between higher education and the federal government is more visible than ever -- though on the question of what exactly that relationship ought to be, no consensus seems imminent.

In his new book, Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century (Princeton University Press), Christopher P. Loss examines the ways in which the government's involvement in higher education has waxed and waned over the past hundred years, and how those changes have affected students and institutions -- and will continue to affect them in the years to come.

Loss, who is assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University, discussed his book with Inside Higher Ed via e-mail.

Q: What does it mean to say that "higher education bridged the gap between citizens and the state"?

A: One of the key arguments of the book is that during the 20th century the federal government turned to intermediary institutions to create administrative capacity in a political culture fearful of “big government.” I contend that higher education was one of those intermediaries — it served as a key site where citizens learned about their government and the government, as a chief sponsor of higher education, learned about its citizens. This is what I mean when I say that higher education mediated relations between citizens and the state. Located at the literal and metaphoric crossroads of state-society relations, higher education is a really fruitful place to observe political and social change in the United States....

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