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  • The Review and the Field of Higher Education
  • Philip G. Altbach


This journal has a unique role in higher education. It is one of the major journals reporting research and scholarship on post-secondary education. It is also the only journal that has the significant responsibility of reflecting on the field of higher education studies. It has the potential to influence higher education policy and practice by linking the research community with policymakers and senior administrators in America’s colleges and universities. The challenge for The Review in the coming period is to link its multiple missions effectively and to provide a forum for dialogue and communication, thus enhancing the impact of research on policy.

The Association for the Study of Higher Education, which sponsors this journal, is a unique organization with a special role in the complex web of American higher education. It speaks for the higher education research community and for those involved in the academic training of professionals in the field. Its core members are in these two overlapping communities, which constitute two of the central constituencies in the higher education community. Researchers work not only in universities but also in policy departments of universities and in state and federal government agencies. The higher education professoriate trains a significant proportion of mid-level management in colleges and universities; and graduates of higher education programs can increasingly be found in top leadership positions in academic [End Page 1] institutions, as well as in governmental agencies that deal with higher education.

The field of higher education has achieved a significant level of professional standing and intellectual rigor. Those holding advanced degrees in the field are accepted at all levels of the administrative hierarchy in academic institutions. Graduate-level training in higher education is increasingly seen as useful preparation for administrative careers in academe. Just as impressive, policy organizations and agencies in government and the private sector see training in the field as highly relevant. This achievement is especially noteworthy when one considers that, although the field of higher education studies can trace its history back to the early 20th century, it has grown significantly only since the 1960s. Indeed, the history of the Association for the Study of Higher Education and of this journal reflects the development of the field.


There is an interesting bifurcation in the field. While training in higher education is seen as relevant preparation for professional work in administration, policy, and research, much of the potential influence of the higher education research community has yet to be realized. While we have no hard data, it seems unlikely that much direct use is made by policymakers in academic institutions or in government of much of the research produced by scholars of higher education. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalization; but overall, the impact of research on policy seems to be limited. This comment probably sums the case for most other fields from health care to international commerce. The “disconnect” between policy and research may be especially strong where the topic being researched has become politicized. This situation is certainly the case for higher education, where debates about tuition costs, affirmative action, and other policy issues are played out on the pages of daily newspapers and in the halls of government.

The pages of this journal may yield some insights regarding both the strengths and the weaknesses of higher education research. While the quality of most of the research reported over the years in The Review is high, much of the research consists of limited case studies on topics that presidents or policymakers facing more pressing issues often consider to be of peripheral relevance. At the same time, even though many of the articles published in this journal do speak to important issues in higher education, they do not receive much attention beyond the community of higher education scholars. Here, the canons of traditional scholarship to which a research journal like The Review subscribes may limit the direct impact of [End Page 2] research. Other publications, such as Change, reach a wider audience, in part because of how articles are written. The dilemmas of communicating research are not easily solved.

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