- Higher Education in Texas: Its Beginnings to 1970 by Charles R. Matthews
Colleges and universities in Texas are an important yet often overlooked part of the history of American higher education. Not only is Texas big in terms of its enrollments, the number of institutions, and the size of its campuses, but its history of higher education is also significant beyond the state, extending nationwide. Thanks to Charles R. Matthews's book, there is no longer an excuse for this oversight and omission.
Matthews, chancellor emeritus of the Texas State University system, narrates the history of the colleges and universities in Texas from just before statehood to 1970. His profiles of Texas colleges that failed remind readers that [End Page 491] higher education is not always a success story. Details on funding, legislative battles, and religion involved in higher education fill a gap in the literature of higher education history. Scholars such as John R. Thelin, Patricia Albjerg Graham, and Roger L. Geiger have focused on higher education in the Northeast, Midwest, and California. Geiger's book The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II (Princeton, 2015), includes sections on land-grant colleges and higher education for women but makes no mention of Texas.
In comparison with other U.S. states, higher education in Texas has both similarities and differences. For example, most states had private religious colleges and universities before they had any public colleges or normal schools, but Texas was the only state to have federal and state land grants as well as educational funding from mineral rights. Most states had segregation of black and white students, as well as men and women students, but Texas also struggled to classify Hispanic students throughout its history. Several landmark cases originating in Texas are discussed, including Sweatt v. Painter (1950), Hernandez v. State of Texas (1954), and Delgado v. Bastrop Independent School District (1948). Each case had profound impacts on education throughout the United States. Many states grappled with defining the role of community colleges, but Texas was intentional about providing job training and career paths for students not interested in pursuing a bachelor's degree and creating transfer paths for those who were. Another Texas anomaly was the use of community colleges to prepare oil refinery workers, such as in Port Arthur.
Since the history of higher education in Texas has been complex, a single volume gets stretched just to survey the institutions. To flesh out the framework, subsequent works might bring attention to the heritage and stories within the structures. Texas, for example, transformed college football nationwide. Texas has been a national leader in research, with three universities that are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities. Rice University deserves to be showcased for its pioneering federal research programs, starting in the 1960s with NASA. Texas A&M University has long graduated more commissioned U.S. Army officers than West Point. Austin and the University of Texas transformed urban planning with land acquisition and campus construction starting in the 1920s. And, after an intramural battle, a victorious faction made certain that the new campus was decidedly Confederate in its monuments and memorials. Finally, another potential source on American opportunity and equity is a photograph of President Lyndon B. Johnson returning to the campus gym of his alma mater, Southwest Texas State College, in 1965 to sign the Higher Education Act.
These episodes hint at the state's higher education contributions to the American academic saga. This book could work well in undergraduate history courses, especially for students who plan to teach. The detailed sources and historical photos will be useful to researchers. Matthews adds a few codicils about recent events, such as programs to increase access for Hispanic students. But the main story ends in 1970, meaning Matthews has left the door open for a subsequent volume that extends the history into the twenty-first century. [End Page 492]