The Williams Project began in the summer of 1989 with a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. From the outset, the aim of the Project has been to do studies of the economics of colleges and universities that meet high analytical standards while staying close to the institutional realities and policy concerns that motivate interest in this sector. We intended that the research be relevant to managers and policy makers, as well as scholars.

Since its inception, scholars associated with the Project have published three books and a number of articles in magazines and academic journals, as well as over 70 working papers concerned with higher education. Their work has been presented at the Stanford Forum for Higher Education Futures, The Princeton Conference on Higher Education, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the National Bureau of Economic Research Working Group in Higher Education, the Macalester Forum, and other national meetings; at conferences of higher education leaders, Department of Education workshops, and at hearings of a national commission concerned with higher education finance. In addition to the Mellon Foundation, project research has received funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and Williams College.

Research studies have been characterized by their attention to the heterogeneity of higher education — the remarkable variety of colleges and universities that make it often suspect to speak of “higher education” as a single entity. And they have looked at the use of “the economic analogy” to characterize higher education, to better understand when it helps to draw parallels between for-profit business and colleges and when it misleads. Past topics of the Project have included the impact of student financial aid on the demand for and access to higher education, responses of colleges and universities to variations in external funding for research and scholarships, the reform of higher education accounting practices to better describe economic realities, the influence of college quality on the career paths and economic status of young people, the determinants of the allocation of state funds among types of higher education institutions, and the impact of merit aid on quality and distribution of educational opportunity in the United States. Ongoing projects include studies of institutional strategies on cost, price, subsidies, aid, and saving, the economic structure of higher education, and peer effects – how students affect and learn from each other.

The Project has been heavily engaged with the undergraduate program at Williams College. Twelve students have written undergraduate theses on higher education, so far, drawing on databases maintained by the Project. The Project helped to support a summer’s research by two Williams undergraduates on programs of early intervention to encourage minority college enrollment. Many undergraduates have also served as research assistants for the Project, and often a recent graduate serves as a full-time Research Coordinator with the Project.

Comments? Send queries and suggestions to David J. Zimmerman, Director