Four distinct waves can be discerned in the history of American higher education. The 85 years before the Civil War were characterized by the founding of hundreds of liberal arts colleges. The post–Civil War era saw the majority of these small colleges disappear, replaced by public land-grant schools. Around the turn of the last century, the giants of American industry led the founding of the great private research universities. The term "megaversity" entered the American lexicon after World War II, when thousands of returning GIs swelled the ranks of higher education; the second half of the 20th century also witnessed the proliferation of community colleges. The fifth great wave is now breaking, with for-profit competition and revolutionary teaching technologies among its main characteristics.
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