Colleges and universities may seem quite similar from the outside. They award similar kinds of credentials, employ similar kinds of people, are subject to common regulations, and have broadly similar traditions and conventions. But there are substantial differences among them with respect to their educational missions, their organizational and governance structures, and their financial models. Indeed, at some level it is difficult to think that a small liberal arts college, a major research university, and a community college have much in common at all, but they all offer the same nominal “product” to consumers—a higher education credential. Unlike many industries, American higher education accommodates a high degree of organizational diversity, and even considers it a distinctive strength. What is less well understood, even among many who study or work in academic organizations, is how we arrived at such variety of institutional types. As we shall see, the answer to this question reveals a great deal about how colleges and universities have responded to changing environmental conditions over the course of history.