Program History

This history of Higher Education at Boston College was prepared by Professor Emeritus Edward J. Power. Dr. Power, a historian of education, has been associated with the B.C. Higher Education Program as an instructor and dissertation advisor from the program's inception in the early 1960's. He has continued to publish historical scholarship and to serve on doctoral committees since his retirement in 1991.

Boston College opened a Center for the Study of Higher Education in 1963. When the Center was established, the University of Michigan, Columbia, Stanford, and the University of Minnesota were among universities with centers for the study of higher education and thriving degree programs in higher education. Boston College essayed to establish a center to represent Catholic colleges and universities in this new field.

When the Center (and then the program) for Higher Education was started, the graduate department of education (a department in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) was an academic unit with neither separate divisions nor discrete programs. Students coming to Boston College to pursue doctoral study in higher education followed a core curricular course of study, added courses related directly with higher education, and prepared a dissertation on a topic germane to higher education. So, the general goal of the Center was to conduct institutes (usually in the summer) on current issues in higher education, to engage in research that could have some bearing on the fortunes of Catholic colleges, and to offer doctoral-level course work for students looking forward to careers in higher education.

In 1968, with the introduction of an eight-division organization in the School of Education, the Center was converted into a program in Higher Education and given administrative identity as the division of Higher Education. The divisional organization had its genesis in a National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education report declaring that graduate faculty in Education could profit from an academic environment where scholarly teaching, research and publication, and student-faculty collegiality are promoted by narrowing, rather than broadening, disciplinary specialization. With the introduction of the divisional structure, the Higher Education division enriched its curriculum and added faculty whose teaching and research interests centered mainly on higher education.

At the outset higher education here added only a few new courses to the instructional program: History and Theory of Higher Education, Organization and Administration of Higher Education in the United States, and College Teaching are examples of courses introduced to the curriculum and they, quite likely, were alone. In the first years, moreover, and before the NCATE recommendation, faculty were not assigned to higher education, but this is unsurprising since other specializations (administration, psychology, research, measurement, history and philosophy) did not have faculty assigned to them either. Exceptions to this practice probably prevailed in counseling psychology and guidance and in special education.

When the doctoral concentration in higher education was introduced to the graduate department of Education, there was no thought whatever of a master's-degree program. And it would have been unthinkable to admit a student for doctoral study in higher education who lacked either a master's degree in education or its equivalent. When this strict qualification was amended is unclear, but the current admission policy, one not prescribing previous work in professional education, has helped enormously to attract talented students to the program. At the same time, admitting students to the master's program whose academic backgrounds range beyond study in professional education has broadened its scope and enhanced its quality.

In the program's early years most students studying in higher education looked forward to teaching in undergraduate departments of education. Their preparation was as generalists. Perhaps a majority of the students in the doctoral program in higher education were faculty members in Massachusetts state colleges.

In the decade of the 1970s, colleges across the country began to alter their perspective with respect to the place and academic purpose of residence facilities, thus creating positions for personnel prepared to serve student needs outside the classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, gave good illustrations of the credentials colleges and universities required of those staff members whose assignment was to superintend life and learning in residence halls. Knowledge of higher education's history, familiarity with personnel theory and practice, to which was added internship experience, were clearly established as being essential elements in the repertoire of this new cadre of college officers. Boston College undertook to satisfy students seeking careers in higher education by instituting a master's-degree program that almost at once achieved a distinguished status among schools offering work in higher education. At the same time, the master's-degree program supplied the solvent financial base needed for Boston College to continue to support a doctoral program. From three or four students enrolled in the first doctoral class in the 1960s, the Program's enrollment grew to an average of about fifty by the year 2000, with about three-fourths of the students in the master's-degree program. Over the life of the Program about 150 doctoral and 400 master's degrees have been awarded.

Since the mid-1980s, the Master's degree program has concentrated upon instruction in student affairs, as well as higher education administration, while the Ph.D. program has offered concentrations in institutional research and finance, student personnel, and college teaching, among others. Most students studying for the doctorate have appointments in junior colleges, colleges, and universities, both in the United States and abroad, and are seeking either security in their positions or expect, in consequence of their study, to improve their professional standing. During the past thirty years the curriculum of the program in Higher Education has undergone many changes as its faculty perceives new goals in the higher learning, new or different student clientele to be educated, and striking challenges in national and international higher education.