Some of the nation’s most important companies did not exist a generation ago, and many of the most important – Amazon.com, Google, Apple, Costco, Home Depot, Microsoft, FedEx – did not exist 50 years ago. The federal government has also been transformed over the last century, with the creation of Social Security, Medicare, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the modern Federal Reserve and dozens of other agencies and programs.
The roster of major American universities, on the other hand, is largely unchanged.
The top universities often considered the youngest – the University of Chicago and Stanford – started in the 1890s. Even colleges with the word “new” in their name don’t quite qualify. The New College of Florida opened in 1960, making it older than the first Walmart store. The New School, in New York (1919), has been around longer than universal women’s suffrage (1920).
One problem that stems from the relatively unchanged nature of higher education is its geography. The country looks very different from the way it did 100 years ago, but the distribution of our leading universities still has 19th-century echoes.