Developing Education/Education as Development in the United States

AHA Session 40
Labor and Working Class History Association 1
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom D (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Angus Robinson Burgin, Johns Hopkins University
Angus Robinson Burgin, Johns Hopkins University

Session Abstract

This panel explores the changing relationship between educational institutions and the economy in the United States across the twentieth century. In particular, the papers examine the varying ways private- and public-sector officials used education and educational institutions to channel and accelerate economic development in different regional contexts. The scale of the public sector commitment varied, but in each case, public officials made human capital development an important element of industrial policy. The institutional vehicles used ranged from vocational schools, to research universities, to venture capital funds, as policymakers in concert with business leaders devised new ways of using taxpayer funds to lower costs for private-sector firms. The distribution of public dollars was a highly contested process at the municipal, state, and federal levels, and these papers explore the shifting boundaries of acceptable market intervention at these multiple historical, spatial, and political scales. Each paper thus offer a lens through which to explore the changing relationships between business and government. The papers trace that relationship from the Progressive era, when northern cities prioritized industrial education as a means of maintaining their economic position, to mid-century when state-level policymakers in the Sunbelt invested heavily in higher education expressly to undermine northern states’ longstanding predominance in skill-intensive economic sectors. By the late twentieth century, the human capital-intensive model of economic development enjoyed such widespread credibility that the state of Massachusetts turned to investing public funds directly in firms that employed high-skilled workers, rather than subsidizing their growth more indirectly via expenditures on education. Most broadly, the papers explore efforts to use public secondary and tertiary educational institutions as sites of human capital development and research innovation.
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