Today, a majority of American college students attend school in cities. But throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, urban colleges and universities faced deep hostility from writers, intellectuals, government officials, and educators who were concerned about the impact of cities, immigrants, and commuter students on college education. In Universities and Their Cities, Steven J. Diner explores the roots of American colleges' traditional rural bias. Why were so many people, including professors, uncomfortable with nonresident students? How were the missions and activities of urban universities influenced by their cities? And how, improbably, did much-maligned urban universities go on to profoundly shape contemporary higher education across the nation? Surveying American higher education from the early nineteenth century to the present, Diner examines the various ways in which universities responded to the challenges offered by cities. In the years before World War II, municipal institutions struggled to "build character" in working class and immigrant students.
In the postwar era, universities in cities grappled with massive expansion in enrollment, issues of racial equity, the problems of "disadvantaged" students, and the role of higher education in addressing the "urban crisis." Over the course of the twentieth century, urban higher education institutions greatly increased the use of the city for teaching, scholarly research on urban issues, and inculcating civic responsibility in students. In the final decades of the century, and moving into the twenty-first century, university location in urban areas became increasingly popular with both city-dwelling students and prospective resident students, altering the long tradition of anti-urbanism in American higher education. Drawing on the archives and publications of higher education organizations and foundations, Universities and Their Cities argues that city universities brought about today's commitment to universal college access by reaching out to marginalized populations. Diner shows how these institutions pioneered the development of professional schools and PhD programs.
Finally, he considers how leaders of urban higher education continuously debated the definition and role of an urban university. Ultimately, this book is a considered and long overdue look at the symbiotic impact of these two great American institutions: the city and the university.