Science production in the United States: An unexpected synergy between mass higher education and the super research university

Frank Fernandez, David P. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Purpose - During the 20th century, the United States rapidly developed its research capacity by fostering a broad base of institutions of higher education led by a small core of highly productive research universities. By the latter half of the century, scientists in a greatly expanded number of universities across the United States published the largest annual number of scholarly publications in STEM+ fields from one nation. This expansion was not a product of some science and higher education centralized plan, rather it flowed from the rise of mass tertiary education in this nation. Despite this unprecedented productivity, some scholars suggested that universities would cease to lead American scientific research. This chapter investigates the ways that the United States' system of higher education underpinned American science into the 21st century. Design - The authors present a historical and sociological case study of the development of the United States' system of higher education and its associated research capacity. The historical and sociological context informs our analysis of data from the SPHERE team dataset, which was compiled from the Thomson Reuters' Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE) database. Findings - We argue that American research capacity is a function of the United States' broad base of thousands of public and broadly accessible institutions of higher education plus its smaller, elite sector of "super" research universities; and that the former serve to culturally support the later. Unlike previous research, we find that American higher education is not decreasing its contributions to the nation's production of STEM+ scholarship. Originality/Value - The chapter provides empirical analyses, which support previous sociological theory about mass higher education and super research universities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-111
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Perspectives on Education and Society
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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