Professor W. Norton Grubb

W. Norton Grubb, Ph.D. was the David Pierpont Gardner Professor of Higher Education, Emeritus, at the University of California Berkeley. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard and before becoming a professor at Berkeley, he taught at the University of Texas, Austin. Grubb’s work is different from normal work about higher education, because he seems to explore the shortcomings and alternatives about higher education. Grubbs’ work often focused on community colleges and the inequalities of the people that attend college. Grubb was a recognized scholar of higher education, awarded with the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in 2012.


Grubb was a professor of the Leadership for Educational Equity Program (LEEP), a doctoral program that prepares teachers for administrative roles in urban areas. Grubb was well equipped to serve in such program, having taught at Butland Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, a very segregated school district. Grubb’s literature reflects these experiences, looking at the inequalities and problems that exist in higher ed. Grubb argues that the education gospel, the belief that a good education leads to a good career, fails due to the lack of proper education, with community colleges possibly being the solution. Grubb’s work especially focuses on the inequalities that exist in education, with him tracing the problem back to K-12 education. Grubb’s work provides an interesting take on a problem that has plagued American higher ed, that could work.


Working in the Middle: Strengthening Education and Training for the Mid-Skilled Labor Force. (1996)

Working in the Middle: Strengthening Education and Training for the Mid-Skilled Labor Force was a book written by W. Norton Grubb that provides a radical view on the way education is viewed, looking at the impact or lack of impact that education has on work. According to the college gospel that commonly pervades throughout society, “social, economic, civic, and moral problems can be solved through schooling” (Lazerson par. 1). From this belief, obtaining a college degree is important because it is believed that it will solve or alleviate the problems facing the person. This book seems to counter that notion with Grubb’s book looking at lucrative jobs that require little or no education. Grubb begins the book by highlighting the importance the jobs have to American education. Grubb followed this by discussing how the education gospel fails to explain these jobs with many people successful in them. For these jobs, Grubb highlights the importance of community colleges whose strength of close student-faculty relations allows them to train students for these kinds of jobs easier. Grubb holds community to a different account than short job training programs, stating that the short-term job training programs are very ineffective in preparing students for such positions. Grubb then turns his eyes to public policy, citing how this mid-level workforce hasn’t been focused on by federal, state, and local governments. Grubb then appeals to these levels of government to help people attain these jobs.

This book, though higher ed wasn’t the main explicit focus of the book, provides a different perspective on higher ed. This book can almost be viewed as disregarding higher ed, or more specifically the traditional view of higher ed. Grubb does address community colleges, however, it isn’t the traditional view of higher ed for most people. The education gospel is highly reliant on the fact people achieve success from higher education. However, with Grubb’s book he is looking at people achieving success without the education.

Clifford Adelman, author of The Toolbox Revisted: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College, etc. and employee of the United States Department of Education, analyzed Grubb’s book, noting the different perspective that Grubb’s book provides on higher education. Adelman highlights the book for three main reasons, “(1) its history of job training programs is concise and clear, (2) its review of the evaluations of those programs demonstrates how much we in higher education have to learn about rigor in evaluation design, and (3) its recommendations on project-based teaching and learning are fine guides for more generalized student-centered approaches”(Adelman par. 5).  Grubb’s message reached his target audience with Adelman noting the appeal Grubb made to the different levels of government, asking for them to create school-to-work (STW) opportunities. What stands out to Adelman the most, however, was Grubb’s combination of logos and pathos.

Grubb used logos by addressing the history of education programs/policies that are involved in preparing people for mid-level jobs. Grubb then employs pathos through the case studies that he obtained from interviewing faculty, students, and employers, all involved in what Grubb covers in his book.


The Education Gospel : The Economic Power of Schooling(2004) 

In The Education Gospel: The Economic Power of Schooling (2004), Grubb collaborated with Marvin Lazerson to explore the education gospel and the fallacies entailed within this belief, the idea that college should prepare people for school. Grubb and Lazerson counter this idea by highlighting that fact people often aren’t prepared for the career fields that they enter. Grubb and Lazerson cite that some people are either under-educated or over educated with “…jobs that are mostly done by graduates…used to require only shorter training, often received while working. Today, having a degree is usually an entry requirement” (The Economist par. 16). This quote demonstrates how extensive the issue of over-education. The authors also imply that over-education is a contributing factor to huge student debts that are a huge issue for college students and alumni.

Additionally, Grubb and Lazerson argue a point similar to Tressie McMillian Cottom makes in her book, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. They argue that the increasing spread of focus on credentialism, rather than vocationalism has resulted in greater inequality. This is a radical idea because it counters the commonly held belief that “education is the great equalizer.” Grubb and Lazerson argue that with the great focus of society on credentialism, inequality is created or amplified as some parents send their kids to private schools while those who can’t are left behind. In the process, it leads to more polarization, should it be through race, economic class, or societal influence.


Grubb’s Websites at University of California Berkeley

W. Norton Grubb–Chancellor’s Award For Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity– University of California Berkeley

W. Norton Grubb-Obituary


Grubb’s Video Interviews

W. Norton Grubb-Memorial Interview



“2012 Recipients.” Diversity Data Dashboard | Diversity,

Adelman, Clifford. “Working in the Middle: Strengthening Education and Training for the Mid-Skilled Labor Force / Learning to Work: The Case for Reintegrating Job Training and Education.” The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 69, no. 1, 1998, pp. 114-116. ProQuest,

Ascd. “Trends: Vocational Education / Education Through Occupations.” How Student Progress Monitoring Improves Instruction – Educational Leadership,

Fermanich, Mark L. “ In Education, Money Isn’t All.” The Denver Post, 30 Aug. 2011,

Grubb, and W. Norton. “Working in the Middle: Strengthening Education and Training for the Mid-Skilled Labor Force.” Journal of Research in Education, Eastern Educational Research Association. George Watson, Marshall University, One John Marshall Drive, College of Education and Professional Development, Huntington, WV 25755. e-Mail:; Web Site: Http://, 30 Nov. 1995,

Grubb, W. Norton. “Honored But Invisible: An Inside Look at Teaching in Community Colleges.” Community College Research Center, 1 Mar. 1999,

Grubb, W. Norton., and Marvin Lazerson. The Education Gospel: the Economic Power of Schooling. Harvard University Press, 2004. ProQuest Ebook Central,

“In Requiem: Professor W. Norton Grubb 1948 – 2015.”, 2015, Accessed 11AD.

Lazerson, Marvin. “The Education Gospel Loud Music, the Lone Ranger, Playing Within Your Game, and It’s Hard to Learn When You’re Hungry.” Education Week, 10 May 2005,

“Leadership for Educational Equity.” Leadership for Educational Equity,

Little, Judith. Philip Selznick,

The Economist. “All Must Have Degrees Going to University Is More Important than Ever for Young People But the Financial Returns Are Falling.” The Economist, 3 Feb. 2018,