Special Reports

Timeline: 50 Years of Higher Education

November 06, 2016


Archive Photos, Getty Images
February 1968

South Carolina police shoot and kill three at South Carolina State College after a civil-rights protest at a segregated bowling alley.

May 1968

Activists take over five buildings at Columbia U. (left) in the largest protest of its kind, with 700 arrested — sparking a culture of student unrest.

August 1968

Students and other protesters battle the police at the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago.

February 1969

Notre Dame’s president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, releases his "Tough 15-Minute Rule," encouraging student dissent against the war but stipulating that it must not interfere with the civil rights of others. Violators would get a timeout.

April 1969

More than 100 students at Cornell U., some later carrying guns, occupy Willard Straight Hall to protest the campus racial climate.

January 1967

Gov. Reagan fires Clark Kerr as U. of California president. The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education is subsequently established with Kerr at the helm.

November 1968

Yale announces it will admit women. Princeton follows within months.

October 1969

Clifton R. Wharton Jr. is named the next president of Michigan State U., the first black leader of a major, predominantly white state university.

October 1969

UCLA undergraduate Charley Kline transmits the letters "L" and "O" to a computer at Stanford, the first message sent on the precursor to the internet. He was typing "LOGIN," but the system crashed.


John Filo, Getty Images

May 1970

National Guardsmen kill four students at Kent State (above). Eleven days later, police fire on protesting students at Jackson State, in Mississippi, killing two more.

June 1972

Title IX and the precursor to the Pell Grant become law.

November 1973

The first Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is released.

November 1974

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 becomes law.

April 1976

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reports that academics in "over 100 colleges, universities and related institutes" have clandestine relationships with the CIA.

September 1976

The U. of Phoenix enrolls its first eight students.

March 1977

Demonstrators at a National Academy of Sciences forum protest the potential for alteration of human genes in recombinant-DNA research.

June 1978

The Supreme Court’s affirmative-action decision on the U. of California v. Bakke bans quotas but approves advantages to minorities in college admissions.

July 1978

Hanna Gray becomes the first woman to lead a major U.S. higher-education institution, the U. of Chicago.

October 1979

The U.S. Department of Education is created under President Jimmy Carter.


Cornell U.
May 1982

The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Title IX bars sex discrimination against employees and students in "any education program or activity" receiving federal money.

April 1983

In a report, "A Nation at Risk," a federal commission warns that a "rising tide of mediocrity" threatens the nation’s schools and colleges.

May 1983

Rejecting a plea from Bob Jones U., the Supreme Court rules against tax exemptions for educational institutions that practice racial discrimination, even on religious grounds.

February 1985

William J. Bennett, the controversial head of the NEH, becomes secretary of education. In his first news conference, he endorses a plan to cut federal spending on student aid and suggests that some students may have to consider "a stereo divestiture, an automobile divestiture, or a three-weeks-at-the-beach divestiture."

December 1986

Michigan approves the first statewide prepaid-tuition plan, allowing parents to start saving for college when their children are still in diapers.

January 1987

The Rev. Jesse Jackson leads some 500 Stanford U. students on a march chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go!" Stanford eventually replaces its Western-culture requirement with a new one including courses on non-European cultures.

May 1987

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind causes a sensation by asserting that students are dispirited and universities are in disarray.

June 1989

Hundreds of students and other protesters are slain in China’s Tiananmen Square massacre.


July 1990

George H.W. Bush signs the Americans With Disabilities Act, expanding protections for college applicants and students with disabilities.

December 1993

Colleges’ exemption to the Federal Age Discrimination Act expires, allowing professors to work past the age of 70.

March 1996

A federal appeals court rules in Hopwood v. California that the 1978 Bakke decision no longer justifies racial preferences, heralding a new era in which affirmative action is put on the defensive.

October 1997

A Chronicle article on the 10th anniversary of Black Monday says, "one of the longest-running bull markets in modern history has enriched institutional investors, boosting endowments by millions — and, in some cases, billions — of dollars." The market climbed for 13 years, from the October 1987 crash until the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000.

July 1993

The Chronicle reports that authorities are confounded by separate mail-bombing attacks against professors at Yale University and the University of San Francisco. The FBI says the attacks are believed to be the latest in a string of 14 that began in 1978, and they’re calling the case "UNABOM," for "university and airline bomber."

Allan Tannenbaum, the Life Images Collection, Getty Images; and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office, Newscom

April 1996

FBI agents find and arrest "the Unabomber," Theodore Kaczynski (above left, in an FBI composite sketch released in 1987, and above right, after his 1996 arrest), a mathematical prodigy and former UC-Berkeley professor with degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan, at his primitive cabin in Montana. Kaczynski, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, killed three people and injured 23 others, many with university ties, during his 17-year terror campaign.

September 1998

Two Stanford Ph.D. candidates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, start a new company called Google.


June 2003

In a case involving the U. of Michigan, Gratz v. Bollinger, the U.S. Supreme Court sets strict new standards for affirmative action in undergraduate admissions, still allowing race to be considered.

August-September 2005

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita cut a swath of destruction across three states, displacing thousands of students and ultimately causing thousands of college employees to lose their jobs.

February 2004

Mark Zuckerberg, a 19-year-old Harvard undergraduate, launches thefacebook.com, a dating site for the university’s students.

March 2006

Lacrosse players at Duke U. are accused of raping a stripper at an off-campus party. The team’s season is canceled, but DNA evidence fails to corroborate the accusations, and the state attorney general ultimately declares the players innocent.

February 2006

Lawrence H. Summers resigns as president of Harvard U. after suggesting a year earlier that women might lack an aptitude for math and science.

September 2006

A panel chaired by Margaret Spellings, U.S. secretary of education, issues a controversial report that criticizes colleges for not preparing students for the 21st-century workplace.

David Howells, Corbis, Getty Images
 April 2007

A mass shooting at Virginia Tech leaves 33 dead, including the gunman. It was — at the time — the worst such massacre in modern American history.

February 2008

The subprime mortgage crisis, which had already spun the U.S. economy into recession, begins to pummel colleges, The Chronicle reports.

September 2008

Some 2,200 people sign up for the first massive open online course, or MOOC, taught at the U. of Manitoba. Twenty-five students pay tuition for the course.


April 2011

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issues new guidance to colleges on complying with Title IX, heralding a wave of investigations into alleged incidents of sexual violence on campuses.

October 2011

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that total student-loan debt will top $1 trillion by year’s end.

March 2014

A package of articles in The Chronicle describes a gradual but steady decrease in state spending on public higher education that will, if trends continue, dry up altogether — as soon as 2022, in one state.

November 2014

Rolling Stone publishes a horrific account of a student’s gang rape at a U. of Virginia fraternity. The magazine retracts the story five months later after the woman’s accusation unravels.

October 2015

Ten people, including the gunman, die in a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, in Oregon.

Daniel Brenner, The New York Times, Redux
 November 2015

Protests by black students at the U. of Missouri (above), including a threatened boycott by the football team, culminate in the resignations of the university system president and the flagship’s chancellor.

August 2016

Texas allows permit holders to carry concealed weapons on public college campuses. The law takes effect on the 50th anniversary of the Texas tower massacre, the first mass murder on an American college campus, which left 15 people dead.

July 2015

The Education Department continues its crackdown on for-profit colleges as its "gainful employment" rule goes into effect. At least two for-profit chains — Corinthian and ITT — eventually go belly up, and the department proceeds to strip its recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a major accreditor of for-profit colleges.