Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE)

The mission of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) is to encourage scholarly inquiry to increase knowledge and understanding of higher education in all of its multifaceted dimensions. ASHE promotes collaboration between and among its members and others who are engaged in the study of higher education through encouraging its members to engage in research, attend its conferences, and publish their findings. ASHE has been an important organization in providing networking and academic resources for the rapidly growing field of higher education degree and research programs. It currently has about 2,000 members.

Following its formation in 1976, ASHE members expanded research in graduate programs and continued to serve as a forum for discussion of graduate study in higher education. Sessions at ASHE’s annual meeting typically consider course content, curriculum, and syllabi with recommendations for doctoral programs in the field of higher education through analysis of future employment needs. Currently, ASHE’s headquarters is at the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

Advocacy and Research on Doctoral Programs

Doctoral programs in higher education have been started and expanded as the need of universities to obtain specialized education for administrators at various levels has grown. In fact, a doctorate in higher education has become a route to positions in both administration and student personnel services. As university governance grew more complex with increased demands for research on state administrative and legislative needs, graduate higher education departments expanded their offerings and expertise into areas of finance, governance, law, college teaching, history and philosophy of higher education, research courses, faculty, students, and student personnel services. ASHE members contributed to making the study of higher education in colleges of education an academic discipline, taking its place with other academic programs. The history of higher education provides a background for the formation of ASHE in addressing challenges and opportunities facing the field, issues that its members continue to address in their research and publications. 

Teaming up with other major organizations, ASHE members undertook research studies dealing with issues facing students, administrators, staff, and legislative funding issues. Due to the growing complexity of institutions of higher education, various components of doctoral programs were established, modified, and updated. Often, members of ASHE worked with their college of education deans and deans of other colleges to expand the role and function of higher education graduate programs. Doctoral programs in the field are often multidisciplinary, using the expertise of faculty of colleges of business, law, and liberal arts. 

Research on Educational Equity and Access

ASHE members have consistently engaged in critical policy and equity research through quantitative and qualitative research methods, addressing issues of race, sex, diversity, and ethnicity in their research and publications. Expanding equity and access to higher education for minorities and low-income students continues to be a major focus for their research. ASHE devotes special attention to underrepresented groups in order to increase their involvement and research activities among its ranks. At the same time, student activism in higher education has resulted in increased attention to certain issues, leading ASHE to expand its focus to a range of issues including sex and race discrimination, adequate facilities for women’s athletic programs, and the needs of a growing nontraditional student population. Other topics that have also come to the fore for ASHE and institutions of higher learning recently focused on adult and lifelong learning programs for fulfilling institutional missions, the development of active learning strategies in instruction, student retention, dropouts, and mental health issues.

ASHE established an Institute on Equity Research Methods and Critical Policy Analysis. Like ASHE’s other targeted programs, this institute is a collaborative effort with the University of California at Los Angeles, the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California, and the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston Law Center. The institute addresses minority student and population issues, targeting inequalities that exist for African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians. The institute’s focus is to support more inclusion with the development of a core group of minority scholars with knowledge and research skills to study these issues. Finding ways to give greater visibility to the needs and interests of minority communities as well as to have more emphasis on recognizing minority scholars for their work in the field is an ongoing process. The University of Houston Law Center, for example, has been active in these outreach efforts. The institute seeks to address the historical and current inequalities that exist for minorities. As the U.S. Supreme Court grapples with the use of race and reverse discrimination in university admissions processes, universities are developing a wide range of strategies to ensure diversity among faculty and students. Affirmative action initiatives continue to be a focus of higher education.

From Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) to Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), the Supreme Court has continued to address issues of equity, access, and reverse discrimination in higher education and beyond. At the same time, ASHE members have analyzed state and federal court rulings as they affect higher education institutions.

The 1947, the Truman administration issued the Higher Education for a Democracy report, which called for expansion of higher education through two-year junior colleges and community colleges, institutions that were designed to use low tuition to provide easy access to a postsecondary education. Originally, many faculty members in these colleges were public school teachers with master’s degrees who worked part-time in higher education. Over the ensuing years, though, community colleges expanded their offerings while growing in size and complexity. In recent years, many community colleges have become four-year colleges offering professional courses not given or with limited offerings in larger colleges and universities. Community colleges enroll the largest number of postsecondary students.

The U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, issued a report called A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education in 2006. Like the Truman report, the Spellings report called for increased student access to higher education at reasonable cost. Stressing increased quality of learning, transparency, and accountability as well as innovation, the report called for measurable and meaningful student learning outcomes. In addition, the report stressed the need to ensure that college and university costs are affordable. The Spellings report also contained recommendations for strengthening levels of retention and student achievement in colleges and universities. 

Publications

ASHE sponsors, in whole or part, the Review of Higher Education, the ASHE Higher Education Report Series, and the ASHE Reader Series serving the academic community. In the Reader Series, previously published articles and book chapters are organized and edited into volumes on topics of interest to teachers and students in higher education graduate programs. The series is designed to help prepare higher education administrators, faculty, researchers, and policy makers for work in the field. With Amaury Nora as the editor of the Review since 2003, it serves as a model of excellence in design, format, and content. As with other journals, researchers have access to full Review articles through the Internet.

Recent articles in the Review reflect current issues in higher education. One of these is the nationwide concern of providing safe campus learning environments for students and faculty; to this end, many colleges and universities are instituting campuswide alert systems. Another issue is finding ways to maintain essential individual privacy while seeking information about possible aggressive and threatening student mental health problems. Academic dishonesty due to the ease of plagiarizing from articles and materials on the Internet is another topic that the Review examines. Moreover, the Review addresses the role of faculty in supervising student work as well as the social dimensions of student discipline, reflecting efforts to encourage student honesty and integrity. Other topics that the Review has covered are underrepresented minorities and faculty pay inequities along with peer review of faculty productivity and teaching effectiveness.

Academic Networking

University administrators increasingly rely on organizations such as ASHE to keep abreast of developments in the field. ASHE provides a place where faculty, administrators, and staff in higher education graduate programs can engage in networking. Often, doctoral candidates in colleges of education serve in internships in colleges and universities. They work in a variety of positions including financial aid, admissions, student unions, recruiting, and other student personnel services. Higher education degree graduates fill positions in these and other university administrative and services departments. Here, they are able to apply educational theories to practice. Top-level administrators, including university and college presidents, with a few notable exceptions, have doctoral degrees in academic disciplines. Higher education degree graduates often fill middle management positions. ASHE’s annual meetings provide opportunities for higher education graduate students and junior faculty to report on their research efforts. 

Membership in the Association for the Study of Higher Education includes a subscription to the aforementioned Review of Higher Education, through which ASHE provides a Web site with a job and career center, a searchable directory of higher education degree programs in the United States, and a special “what’s new” section. ASHE remains an important organization due to its ongoing contributions to the ever-expanding field of higher education research and study. 

ASHE members have supported efforts to strengthen requirements for advanced degrees in higher education, adding in-depth research components, thereby making higher education degrees much sought after for many administrators and staff who already have positions at universities and colleges but seek to strengthen and update their administrative skills to receive higher financial rewards. ASHE also has a global outreach through its members and contacts throughout the world. It has always had a strong international component, with members from other countries contributing to annual meetings. Internationalism is also evident in the diversity of student, faculty, and staff populations in higher education degree programs. ASHE also offers preconference forums in public policy and international higher education at its annual conferences. 

Ethical Standards and Accreditation

ASHE has incorporated principles of ethical conduct in its commitment to maintaining high standards of conduct, research, and professional responsibility. Ensuring proper attribution for contributors to research and publication as well as taking responsibility for individual and group work is an important ethical principle for ASHE. Members of ASHE are cautioned and encouraged to maintain professional respect and civility in their relationships and interactions with others. 

Issues such as distance learning and the growing number of part-time, contingency, and adjunct faculty members with limited support services and job security have also been subjects of research for ASHE members. As institutions such as the University of Phoenix represent a trend in new instructional strategies with growing enrollment of distance learning students, accreditation, faculty preparation, assessment, and accountability have been a challenge to this growing educational delivery system. Concerns about educational quality have led to accreditation procedures for a variety of educational distance delivery systems, topics of interest for ASHE members’ research.

James J. Van Patten

See also Civil Rights Movement; Fourteenth Amendment; intellectual property

Further Readings

  • Baldwin, R. G., & Thelin, J. R. (1990). Thanks for the memories: The fusion of quantitative and qualitative research on college students and the college experience. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 6, 337–360. 
  • Berdahl, R. (2001). Apologia pro vita mia. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 16, 1–24. 
  • Fife, J. D., & Goodchild, L. F (1991). Administration as a profession. New Directions for Higher Education, 76, 103–114. 
  • President’s Commission on Higher Education. (1947). Higher education for a democracy, a report. New York: Harper.
  • A test of leadership: Charting the future of U S. higher education. (2006). A report of the Commission appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
  • Townsend, B. K. (1990). Doctoral study in the field of higher education. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 6, 161–199. 

Legal Citations

  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 127 S. Ct. 2738 (2007). 
  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978).