Historic context University roots run deep

From 1946-1991, in constant dollars, the total budgets of colleges and universities increased by 20 times (see Box 22.1). Over that same period, the number of annual degrees awarded increased nine-fold, physical plant size increased by a factor of six, and full-time faculty compensation doubled. The Institute of Education Science reports that universities now receive more than US$36 billion in on-budget support for post-secondary education, more than US$30 billion of it for research and research institutions. Campus research has become big business.

This increased spending has led to a dramatic increase in the number of US graduates. From 1950-2007, the percentage of the population with a bachelor's degree jumped from more than 5 per cent to more than 25 per cent. This shift, combined with a doubling of population, has increased the number of college graduates in this country from 7.5 million to 75 million. Today, more than 50 per cent of Americans age 25 and up have attended some college.2

As they have expanded, US universities have also become major economic players. In 1999-2000 alone, public degree-granting institutions spent nearly US$238 billion.3Universities are also part of an enormous education sector, which occupies 10 billion square feet of space in 386,000 buildings and uses 820 trillion BTUs a year at an estimated cost of close to US$15 billion. As investors, 746 colleges and universities have combined endowment assets of more than US$298 billion; 56 of these institutions have endowment assets of over US$1 billion, and 334 other schools have endowments of over US$100 million.4

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