History of CSHE

Established in 1956, the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) is the first research institute in the United States devoted to the study of higher education. The Center’s mission is to produce and support multi-disciplinary scholarly perspectives on strategic issues in higher education, to conduct relevant policy research, to promote the development of a community of scholars and policymakers engaged in policy-oriented discussion, and to serve the public as a resource on higher education. CSHE brings to this discussion several distinct perspectives:

  • A national and international and comparative focus
  • A focus on higher education policy issues unique to California and its different tiers of education
  • A focus on the specific strategic issues important to the University of California


Illuminating and Enriching Higher Education 

Mission Statement:

The mission of the Center for Studies in Higher Education is to influence higher education by:

  • Conducting policy relevant research across California, the nation and the world; 

  • Bringing multidisciplinary and multi-cultural perspectives, and promoting social justice; 

  • Fostering a global community of scholars and leaders, promoting policy-oriented discussions;

  • Teaching future generations of diverse academic executives, scholars, and policy makers; and

  • Serving as a knowledge hub accessible to scholars, policy makers, and the public.

Establishing the Center

The Center for Studies in Higher Education has a distinguished history. Established in 1957 under UC Regental action as the first research unit devoted to the study of higher education policy issues, under its first director, Professor T.R. McConnell (former Chancellor at the University of Buffalo), its initial focus was on the dimensions of student attitudes and orientations, the organization of university systems, and other broad policy issues, including financing of higher education in California.

The idea of the Center was first discussed when John W. Gardner, President of the Carnegie Corporation, met with T. R. McConnell shortly after he joined the faculty at UC Berkeley in March 1955. Gardner asked McConnell what areas of research in higher education needed investigation. McConnell did so, and several weeks later Gardner wrote to McConnell informing him that:

  1. The Carnegie Corporation was interested in supporting research on them;
  2. The organization would like him to consider undertaking them at Berkeley.

McConnell drew up a planning proposal with the approval of UC President Robert Gordon Sproul, and on September 21, 1955 they were notified that the Carnegie Corporation would provide a pilot grant, and a general interest in providing funds for proposed studies and projects. While the subsequent study was undertaken, Berkeley Chancellor Clark Kerr visited the Carnegie Corporation in New York to discuss establishing the "Institute of Higher Education."

McConnell's plan provided for long-term investigations, with a need for a large staff and appropriate facilities. The first major study proposed was entitled "The Diversity of American Higher Education," The proposed "Center for the Study of Higher Education" would focus on "basic research" on policy issues, and not be an agency for studying the UC's own problems.

As formulated by Kerr and McConnell, the Center was funded with five general purposes:

  1. As a University-wide rather than a Department of Education organization;
  2. Develop a research program involving a staff in several disciplines;
  3. Provide for progressively widening inclusion of faculty members in the continuing research;
  4. Conduct special conferences under the auspices of an All-University agency;
  5. Support research fellows of various grades and from various fields in the research activity of the Center.

A two-year grant was then approved by the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Corporation establishing The Center for the Study of Higher Education in 1956. Soon after the Carnegie funded a five-year study by the Center focused on the undergraduate experience of students in American colleges and universities. They also funded a five-year grant to fund the administration of the Center. McConnell held the title Chairman of the Center. It was then housed in temporary quarters, and by Fall 1957 "in an old house on the corner of Bancroft Way and Piedmont."

One of the first major studies under the Center was Lyman Glenny's The Autonomy of Public Colleges, published in 1959 -- completed while he was a faculty member at Sac State and the first major scholarly study of state systems of higher education.

The 1960s into the 1990s

Under the direction of Leland Medsker and Lyman Glenny in the early 1960’s and 70’s the Center grew into a major R&D Center for higher education. Federal research funding of higher education research, however, declined sharply in the early 1970’s. The Center then moved away from large scale, and largely survey, research projects.

Under the directorships of Professors Martin Trow, Neil Smelser, and Sheldon Rothblatt between 1977 and 1996, forums at the Center brought together scholars from all over the world to the Berkeley campus. Because of these activities, the Center achieved an international eminence and leadership role in discussions of higher education policy issues both here and abroad. A major feature of the Center’s operations over the past two decades has been the visiting associates’ scholars programs.

The Center, in part because of its close ties with Presidents Emeriti Clark Kerr and David Gardner, has provided a forum for significant discussions of UC system-wide and campus policy. CSHE is a unique campus setting where faculty, administrators, and research fellows and policymakers can openly discuss complex problems, long-range strategies, and future visions outside the immediate sphere of decision making and conflict.

Over this period, many ongoing seminars took place. This has included gatherings of Community College leaders with Berkeley faculty and administrators, visits by lawmakers and legislative staff, international officials and researchers, discussions between administrators from the Office of the President and their counterparts on the Berkeley campus, and ongoing seminars dealing with the topics such as student access, governance of higher education, university management, the history of higher education, the role of student services, and the future of instructional technologies.

Since then, the Center has grown as a local for supporting and conducting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. For a description of current programs and activities, see the Center’s current Mission Statement on this website.

CSHE Directors

2019-present - George Blumenthal

2017-2019Henry Brady (Public Policy)

2016-2017 - Michael Nacht (Public Policy)

2015-2016 - Carol T. Christ (English)

2004- 2014 - C. Judson King (Chemical Engineering)

2002-2004 - Karl S. Pister (Civil Engineering)

2000-2002 - Michael Heyman (Law)

1996-1999 - Arnold Leiman (Psychology)

1989-1996 - Sheldon Rothblatt (History)

1987-1989 - Neil J. Smelser (Sociology)

1977-1987 -Martin Trow (Sociology/Public Policy)

1976-1977 - Dale Tillery (Education)

1972-1976 - Lyman A. Glenny (Education)

1966-1972 - Leland L. Medsker (Education)

1956-1966 - T.R McConnell (Education)