The American higher education system today carries a scant resemblance to its roots, the early colonial colleges. One major change is the increasing emphasis on applied knowledge. Adopting an institutional perspective on organizational change, this work analyzes the dynamic of ascendance of the “practical-arts” in American academia. Using data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, this work identified eight high-growth fields in the American undergraduate system since 1950. It traced the innovative institutions, those that first offered new fields that proved to be of high growth, and analyzed their institutional characteristics in terms of size, type of control, and academic complexity. Findings show that innovative universities were not elite; they were large institutions, typically public and not private ones. The role of the federal government in the rise of the new fields was crucial.