The summer issue of the History of Education Quarterly commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of Harry S. Truman’s Presidential Commission on Higher Education. The resulting report examined “the functions of higher education in our democracy and of the means by which they can best be performed.” It is now considered among the most important documents in the history of American higher education.
This summer’s special issue examines the report’s effects, including the dramatic increases in enrollments that occurred in the decades following the end of World War II.
In a letter sent to candidates for the Commission, Truman explained his rationale as follows:
As veterans return to college by the hundreds of thousands, the institutions of higher education face a period of trial which is taxing their resources and their resourcefulness to the utmost…. It seems particularly important, therefore, that we should now re-examine our system of higher education in terms of its objectives, methods, and facilities; and in the light of the social role it has to play.
His goals were explicit, but flexible:
Among the more specific questions with which I hope the Commission will concern itself are: ways and means of expanding educational opportunities for all able young people; the adequacy of curricula, particularly in the fields of international affairs and social understanding; the desirability of establishing a series of intermediate technical institutes; the financial structure of higher education with particular reference to the requirements for the rapid expansion of physical facilities. These topics of inquiry are merely suggestive and not intended to limit in any way the scope of the Commission’s work.
Touraine, A. (1997). The Academic System in American Society. London: Transaction. (Original work published 1974.)