American Universities in a Global Market (review)
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Reviewed by
Charles T. Clotfelter (Ed.). American Universities in a Global Market. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 413 pp. Cloth: $99.00. ISBN: 978-0-226-11044-8.

American Universities in a Global Market is a substantial tome, and not just because of the sheer weight of its over 400 densely written pages. The authors offer a rigorous analysis of the impacts and importance of globalization on higher education in the United States.

They take an explicitly disciplinary focus, using economic theories and traditions to assess a series of interrelated themes, including cost, benefits, rational choice, decision-making behaviors, human capital theory, markets, competition, and the connections between education, student mobility, and the availability of jobs and financial resources. Aspects of historical and political impacts on economic conditions are also included in many of the chapter analyses.

As is the case with many edited books, the quality of the chapters can be uneven. Although the book’s theme was fairly consistently employed [End Page 338] by the various authors, the level of detail and data sources considered made the volume as a whole feel somewhat disjointed. Earlier chapters, for example, focused rather narrowly on the Ph.D. market and the engineering and science fields, while later chapters adopted a country or regional case study approach. As a consequence, it reads like a collection of individual papers rather than a collaborative work that provides a global perspective on the conditions impacting the U.S. higher education market.

Although the range of perspectives offered by the authors was welcome and largely enlightening, it was less efficient in articulating key points. The same arguments are presented in different chapters with few cross-references to other authors or perspectives—whether complementary or contradictory— in other parts of the book. A plethora of information is offered, but each chapter ultimately stands on its own.

The reader can pick and choose the chapters that best interest him or her, without worrying about being plunged into a conceptual in medias res. This can be good, especially as it makes the book more approachable, but it also means that identifying the appropriate audience for the book as a whole is more difficult.

The opening chapter by John Adams offers a nice, almost gentle, start to the book and provides good background for subsequent chapters. The history of United States higher education and the federal government’s role in expanding higher education is likely not new to most readers of The Review of Higher Education, but for less specialized audiences it is a helpful overview.

The chapter summarizes the post World War II expansion in American colleges and universities (i.e., increasing access, increasing numbers of foreign scientists, and an increase in military research), the subsequent tapering off after the 1980s, and the outright contraction of the 1990s that ushered in decreased funding and resources for public institutions that continues today. Implicit in this discussion are the twin assumptions that higher education is (a) in the national interest, and (b) vital to the emerging international standing of the United States in the world. The author’s worries that the United States is losing preeminence read just this side of clichéd, even as they prepare the reader for what seems to be an underlying concern that motivated the development of this book.

After the introductory chapter’s 30,000-foot view of the topic, the next few chapters drop almost jarringly close to the ground. Chapter 2 uses data from Ohio to provide perspective on college choice, particularly within the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The author, Eric Bettinger, argues that the shortage of scientists and engineers in the United States is overstated and suggests economic motivations for U.S. students’ choice to major in disciplines other than in engineering and science.

Chapter 3 by John Bound and Sarah Turner is a somewhat confusing discussion of the economic principles of who pays for and who benefits from international doctoral students in the science and engineering fields.

In Chapter 4, Grant Black and Paula Stephan clearly lay out the economics involved in science in a university setting...