Association, Service, Market: Higher Education in American Political Development

US higher education has enjoyed growing attention from social scientists and historians. We integrate recent scholarship by framing a political and historical sociology of the sector and we show how higher education has been central to projects of nation building and social provision throughout the course of American political development. US higher education has three institutional configurations: an associational one, defined by voluntary intramural organizations; a national service one, defined by massive government patronage; and a market one, defined by competition for students, patrons, and prestige. Continuity and change over time may be understood with the theoretical tools of historical sociology: path dependence, coalescence, and robust action. Our review substantiates assertions of deep turbulence in US higher education at present and calls for a closer integration of scholarship on state building and social stratification to inform the future.

Reference Information


Mitchell L. Stevens


Annual Review of Sociology

Publication Date: 

July 2016