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The nature of college education has changed A LOT over the course of history. So without further ado, here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about the history of college!

1. Only a small fraction of people would attend college. 

Nowadays, U.S. universities award millions of undergraduate degrees every year. About two-thirds of those graduating high school attend college. However, it wasn’t always that way. It used to be that only a small fraction of the population would attend college, but the popularity of college has risen over the past century.

2. The cost of college used to be low.

If you went to college in 1915, many colleges were free or inexpensive. For example, you could attend Stanford for free. Going to Harvard would have set you back a measly $150 (about $3500 in today’s money). Most people were studying to be ministers, professors, or other low-paying public service jobs.

3. Price of tuition sky-rocketed after enrollment increased.

The idea of college as a stepping stone towards higher-paying jobs only really began in the mid-20th century. College enrollment exploded with the introduction of the GI bill, which paid for the tuition of all World War II veterans. With the government paying the fees and many now using college to get into high-paying jobs, it made sense to charge people more.

4. For 50 years, more women have attended college than men.

It was in the late 1970’s that women first outnumbered men in U.S. Colleges. Since then, women have attended college at a higher rate than men every year, and the current college population is about 56% female. Women only began to attend college in 1837, when Oberlin became the first American college to accept women, 2 years after it became the first college to accept African-Americans.

5. The oldest university is in Italy.

The University of Bologna, in Italy, is the oldest university in the world. It’s believed to have been founded in 1088 by foreign students in the city of Bologna, and was originally focused on teaching ancient Roman law. Today it is one of the top universities in Italy, and over its centuries of existence has boasted alumni such as Nicholas Copernicus, Enzo Ferrari (the founder of Ferrari), and a number of different Popes.


6. Yale brought the PhD to America.

Yale was the first American University to award the title of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) to 3 students in 1861. PhDs popularized in Germany, which had a long-standing network of research universities which awarded them. This led to many American students heading to Germany for a PhD after their bachelor’s degree in the US. In response, American universities began to offer their own. This was the beginning of dedicated graduate education programs in the US, which had previously only really had undergraduate education.


7. Harvard didn’t always teach Calculus.

Calculus is a subject that many college freshmen have nightmares about. When Harvard was first founded in 1636, its curriculum did not include calculus. Even though at the time Harvard was primarily dedicated to training ministers, its curriculum included other mathematical subjects such as geometry, algebra, and astronomy. The course wasn’t offered because it wasn’t even invented until 1670, 40 years later!


College has changed a lot since the early days of its existence, and we hope that you’ve learned something about the weird and fascinating history of it!