One of the best books on the history of American higher education, author Miguel Urquiola of Columbia argues for the importance of market competition in the rise and dominance of the American system. Strongly argued and full of good evidence and stories, here is one excerpt I found of interest:
That Columbia would be among the first successful American research universities would have surprised many observers around 1850, as the school had seen real oscillations in its fortunes. For the first decades after its creation in 1754, Columbia was a wealthy but small school. In 1774 it had the highest collegiate endowment, but only 36 students, while Harvard and Yale had four or five times as many…in 1797 the college had eight faculty members, during most of the 1800s it had four. In 1809, an inquiry warned that Columbia College “was fast becoming, if it has not become already, a mere Grammar School”; between 1800 and 1850, even as New York City grew, the school’s enrollment stagnated, and even in 1850 the average entering age was 15.
Among wealthy countries, the United States is unusual in letting its university sector operate as a free market. Self-rule, free entry, and free scope are much less prevalent in Europe.
Recommended, you can pre-order here.