University of Rochester

Researcher Delves into Race, Class, Religion, Gender to Study the History of Minority Access to College

November 17, 2000

Not until the 20th century did higher education come within reach for most American women and minorities. By 1910, the applicant pool was growing and additional enrollment surges followed World War II and passage of the G. I. Bill. Now a University of Rochester scholar of educational history is investigating how colleges and universities dealt with nontraditional students from 1920 to 1970.

Harold S. Wechsler, professor at the Margaret Warner Graduate School at Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester, has received a $380,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to study the development of minority access to higher education, and how institutional policies and actions affected it.

"Our country's quest for educational equity remains elusive after all these years," says Wechsler. "We need more analytical and less polemical treatment of issues related to promoting and hindering minority access to higher education."

Wechsler will work with graduate student assistants to analyze a dozen U.S. colleges and universities by examining ethnic and racial histories, documents, surveys and other materials that reveal student demographics, enrollment patterns, and institutional accommodations for minorities and women.

The three-year project allows Wechsler to bridge his previous research on early 20th-century admissions policies with his studies of minority access to college since 1970. Other historians have looked at elite Eastern colleges and how they handled the academic and social lives of minority students and women. Wechsler is taking the next step by tracking how women, African American, Jewish, Hispanic and Asian college students fared at municipal and state institutions

Wechsler earned his doctorate in history from Columbia University, and has received numerous awards, fellowships and grants for research projects on campus prejudice, working conditions of college faculty, and the lives of Jewish college students. He taught at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University prior to coming to the Warner School in 1991. He is the author of several books and monographs, including The Middle College Movement: A History; Jewish Learning in American Universities: The First Century (with Paul Ritterband); and The Qualified Student: A History of Selective College Admission in America 1870-1970.

The Spencer Foundation was established to investigate ways in which education in its broadest sense can be improved around the world. Since 1968, the foundation, which is based in Chicago, has made grants totaling approximately $250 million.