On July 21st, I attended an event at the American Enterprise Institute called “Comprehending Comprehensive Universities.” A fitting title – since my exact purpose in visiting the institute was to learn more about what a comprehensive university is. KC Deane, Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program Manager, spoke to this question first.
Like many other panelists, she defined a comprehensive university by what it is not. A comprehensive university is not a research university. It is also not a community college or a flagship institution. Rather, a comprehensive university is best defined as a four-year, public university. Alisha Hicklin Fryar, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, urged the audience to think of “state schools and the University of’s;” Fryar insisted that most of these schools will be comprehensive universities, and often times the backbone of higher education. Her research indicates that 69% of undergraduates are enrolled in such institutions. Diversity in student population is largely present: 74% Latino, 70% Native American, and 65% African-Americans. Comprehensive universities are also diverse in size, ranging from 711 to 56,326 students. They are located in 400 of 535 congressional districts.
Fryar further mentioned that the majority of students enrolled in comprehensive universities are graduate students, studying topics focusing on education, business, and health. Such institutions work to train a large majority of the workforce, yet they are only minimally studied (compared to community colleges, research universities, etc.). They also receive less funding than other university models.
In a way, comprehensive universities remind me of charter schools – a lot of people today do not know exactly how to define a charter perhaps in the same way that they might not know how to define a comprehensive university. Yet, much like comprehensives, charter schools serve a larger part of