Higher education in the United States

Higher education in the United States

Higher education in the United States refers to a variety of institutions of higher education in the United States. Strong research and funding have helped make American colleges and universities among the world's most prestigious, which is particularly attractive to international students, professors and researchers in the pursuit of academic excellence. According to the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, more than 30 of the highest-ranked 45 institutions are in the United States (as measured by awards and research output). [The Academic Ranking of World Universities formula was based on alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10 percent), staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20 percent), "highly-cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories" (20 percent), articles published in the journals "Nature" and "Science" (20 percent), the Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Arts and Humanities Citation Index (20 percent) and the size of the institution (10 percent).] Public universities, private universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges all have a significant role in higher education in the United States. An even stronger pattern is shown by the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities with 103 US universities in the Top 200.

Educational attainment in the United States is similar to that of other developed countries. Fact|date=January 2008

The 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau found that 19.5 percent of the population had attended college but had no degree, 7.4 percent held an associate's degree, 17.1 percent held a bachelor's degree, and 9.9 percent held a graduate or professional degree. Only a small gender gap was present: 27 percent of the overall population held a bachelor's degree or higher, with a slightly larger percentage of men (27.9 percent) than women (26.2 percent). [" [http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-qr_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_S1501&-ds_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_&-redoLog=false Educational Attainment] ." American Community Survey and Puerto Rico Community Survey, 2006. United States Census Bureau.] However, despite increasing economic incentives for people to obtain college degrees, the percentage of people graduating high school and college has been declining as of 2008. [ [http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/why_dont_more_people_go_to_college/] ." Outside the Belt Way, 20068. Outside the Belt Way Blog.]

The survey found that the area with the highest percentage of people 25 years and over with a bachelor's degree was the District of Columbia (45.9 percent), followed by the states of Massachusetts (37 percent), Maryland (35.1 percent), Colorado (34.3 percent), and Connecticut (33.7 percent). The state with the lowest percentage of people 25 years and over with a bachelor's degree was West Virginia (16.5 percent), finishing below Arkansas (18.2), Mississippi (18.8 percent), Kentucky (20 percent), and Louisiana (20.3 percent). [" [http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/GRTTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-_box_head_nbr=R1502&-ds_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_&-format=US-30 Percent of People 25 Years and Over Who Have Completed a Bachelor's Degree: 2006] ." American Community Survey and Puerto Rico Community Survey, 2006. United States Census Bureau.]

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1995 alone, U.S. universities granted 2,142 licenses and options to license patented technology, most of them exclusive; 169 start-up companies were formed in 1995 (more than 1,100 from 1980-95), for which such exclusive patents were the key. The licensing of university-research spin-offs adds more than 150,000 jobs to the U.S. economy each year.


The American university system, like the primary and secondary education system, is largely decentralized, in large part because the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reserves all powers not granted to the federal government or explicitly denied to the U.S. states "for the States respectively, or to the people." Such a degree of autonomy in higher education is rare.

American universities have developed independent accreditation organizations to vouch for the quality of the degrees they offer. The accreditation agencies rate universities and colleges on criteria such as academic quality—the quality of their libraries, the publishing records of their faculty, and the degrees which their faculty hold. Nonaccredited institutions are perceived as lacking in quality and rigor, and may be termed diploma mills.

Colleges and universities in the U.S. vary in terms of goals: some may emphasize a vocational, business, engineering, or technical curriculum while others may emphasize a liberal arts curriculum. Many combine some or all of the above.
Two-year colleges (often but not always community colleges) usually offer the associate's degree such as an Associate of Arts (A.A.). Community colleges are often open admissions, with low tuition. Four-year colleges (which usually have a larger number of students and offer a greater range of studies than two-year colleges) offer the bachelor's degree, such as the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). These are usually primarily undergraduate institutions, although some might have limited programs at the graduate level. Many students earn an associate's degree at a two-year institution before transferring to a four-year institution for another two years to earn a bachelor's degree.Beth Frerking, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/education/edlife/bestccs.html Community Colleges: For Achievers, a New Destination] , "The New York Times", April 22, 2007.]

Four-year institutions in the U.S. which emphasize the liberal arts are liberal arts colleges. These colleges traditionally emphasize interactive instruction (although research is still a component of these institutions). They are known for being residential and for having smaller enrollment, class size, and teacher-student ratios than universities. These colleges also encourage a high level of teacher-student interaction at the center of which are classes taught by full-time faculty rather than graduate student teaching assistants (TAs), who do teach classes at Research I and other universities. Most are private, although there are public liberal arts colleges. In addition, some offer experimental curricula, such as Hampshire College, Beloit College, Bard College at Simon's Rock, Pitzer College, Sarah Lawrence College, Grinnell College, Bennington College, New College of Florida, and Reed College. Universities are research-oriented institutions which provide both undergraduate and graduate education. (For historical reasons, some universities—such as Boston College, Dartmouth College, and the College of William & Mary—have retained the term "college," while some institutions granting few graduate degrees, such as Wesleyan University, use the term "university." Graduate programs grant a variety of master's degrees—such as the Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), or Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)—in addition to doctorates such as the Ph.D. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education distinguishes among institutions on the basis of the prevalence of degrees they grant and considers the granting of master's degrees necessary, though not sufficient, for an institution to be classified as a university. [cite web|url=http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/classifications/index.asp?key=798|title=Basic Classification Technical Details|publisher=Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching|accessdate=2007-03-20]

Some universities have professional schools, which are attended primarily by those who plan to be practitioners instead of academics (scholars/researchers). Examples include journalism school, business school, medical schools (which usually award the M.D.), law schools (J.D.), veterinary schools (D.V.M.), and dental schools. A common practice is to refer to different units within universities as "colleges" or "schools" (what is referred to in other countries as faculties). Some departments may be divided into "departments"–such as an anthropology department within a college of liberal arts and sciences within a larger university.Except for the United States service academies and staff colleges, the federal government does not directly regulate universities, although it can give federal grants to them. The majority of public universities are operated by the states and territories, usually as part of a state university system. Each state supports at least one state university and several support many more. California, for example, has three public higher education systems: the 11-campus University of California, the 23-campus California State University, and the 109-campus California Community Colleges System. Public universities often have a large student body, with introductory classes numbering in the hundreds and some undergraduate classes taught by graduate students. Tribal colleges operated on Indian reservations by some federally recognized tribes are also public institutions.

Many private universities also exist. Among these, some are secular while others are involved in religious education. Some are non-denominational and some are affiliated with a certain sect or church, such as Roman Catholicism (with different institutions often sponsored by particular religious orders such as the Jesuits) or religions such as Lutheranism or Mormonism. Seminaries are private institutions for those preparing to become members of the clergy. Most private schools (like all public schools) are non-profit, although some are for-profit.

Tuition is charged at almost all American universities, except 1) the five federally-sponsored service academies, in which students attend free and with a stipend in exchange for a service commitment in the U.S. armed forces after graduation; and 2) a few institutions where offering tuition-free education is part of their mission, such as Cooper Union, Berea College and Olin College. Public universities often have much lower tuition than private universities because funds are provided by state governments and residents of the state that supports the university typically pay lower tuition than non-residents. Students often use scholarships, student loans, or grants, rather than paying all tuition out-of-pocket. Several states offer scholarships that allow students to attend free of tuition or at lesser cost; examples include HOPE in Georgia and Bright Futures in Florida.

Most universities, public and private, have endowments. A January 2007 report by the National Association of College and University Business Officers revealed that the top 765 U.S. colleges and universities had a combined $340 billion in endowment assets as of 2006. The largest endowment is that of Harvard University, at $29 billion. [cite web | title =NACUBO Endowment Study| | month = January | year = 2007 | url= http://www.nacubo.org/documents/research/2006NES_Listing.pdf]

The majority of both liberal arts colleges and public universities are coeducational; the number of women's colleges and men's colleges has dwindled in past years and nearly all remaining single-sex institutions are private liberal arts colleges. There are historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), both private (such as Morehouse College) and public (such as Florida A&M).

Admission process

Students can apply to some colleges using the Common Application. There is no limit to the number of colleges or universities to which a student may apply, though an application must be submitted for each. With a few exceptions, most undergraduate colleges and universities maintain the policy that students are to be admitted to (or rejected from) the entire college, not to a particular department or major (This is unlike college admissions in many European countries, as well as graduate admissions). Some students, rather than being rejected, are "wait-listed" for a particular college and may be admitted if another student who was admitted decides not to attend the college or university.


Two well known college and university rankings guides offer annual issues which rank colleges and universities. They are the "U.S. News and World Report" [http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/brief/t1libartco_brief.php] and "The Washington Monthly's " "College Rankings" issue. [http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2006/0609.libarts.html]

2007 movement

On 19 June, 2007, during the annual meeting of the Annapolis Group, members discussed the letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the "reputation survey" section of the "U.S. News and World Report" survey (this section comprises 25% of the ranking). As a result, "a majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting said that they did not intend to participate in the U.S. News reputational rankings in the future." [cite web | first =Scott | last =Jaschik | title =More Momentum Against ‘U.S. News’| publisher = Inside Higher Ed | date = 20 June 2007 | url= http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/06/20/usnews] However, the decision to fill out the reputational survey or not will be left up to each individual college as: "the Annapolis Group is not a legislative body and any decision about participating in the US News rankings rests with the individual institutions." [cite web | first = | last =| title =ANNAPOLIS GROUP STATEMENT ON RANKINGS AND RATINGS|publisher = Annapolis Group | date = 19 June 2007 | url= http://www.collegenews.org/x7131.xml] The statement also said that its members "have agreed to participate in the development of an alternative common format that presents information about their colleges for students and their families to use in the college search process." [cite web | first = | last =| title =ANNAPOLIS GROUP STATEMENT ON RANKINGS AND RATINGS|publisher = Annapolis Group | date = 19 June 2007 | url= http://www.collegenews.org/x7131.xml] This database will be web based and developed in conjunction with higher education organizations including the" National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities" and the "Council of Independent Colleges."

On 22 June 2007, "U.S. News and World Report" editor Robert Morse issued a response in which he argued, "in terms of the peer assessment survey, we at "U.S. News" firmly believe the survey has significant value because it allows us to measure the "intangibles" of a college that we can't measure through statistical data. Plus, the reputation of a school can help get that all-important first job and plays a key part in which grad school someone will be able to get into. The peer survey is by nature subjective, but the technique of asking industry leaders to rate their competitors is a commonly accepted practice. The results from the peer survey also can act to level the playing field between private and public colleges." [cite web | first =Robert| last = Morse| title =About the Annapolis Group's Statement| publisher = U.S. News and World Report | date = 22 June 2007 | url= http://www.usnews.com/blogs/college-rankings-blog/2007/6/22/about-the-annapolis-groups-statement.html#read_more] In reference to the alternative database discussed by the Annapolis Group, Morse also argued, "It's important to point out that the Annapolis Group's stated goal of presenting college data in a common format has been tried before [...] "U.S. News" has been supplying this exact college information for many years already. And it appears that NAICU will be doing it with significantly less comparability and functionality. "U.S. News" first collects all these data (using an agreed-upon set of definitions from the Common Data Set). Then we post the data on our website in easily accessible, comparable tables. In other words, the Annapolis Group and the others in the NAICU initiative actually are following the lead of "U.S. News"." [cite web | first =Robert| last = Morse| title =About the Annapolis Group's Statement| publisher = U.S. News and World Report | date = 22 June 2007 | url= http://www.usnews.com/blogs/college-rankings-blog/2007/6/22/about-the-annapolis-groups-statement.html#read_more]


Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor and member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, has been a vocal critic of how institutions of higher education are financed. In his 2004 book, "Going Broke by Degree," Vedder says that tuition increases have rapidly outpaced inflation; that productivity in higher education has fallen or remained stagnant; and that third-party tuition payments from government or private sources have insulated students from bearing the full cost of their education, allowing costs to rise more rapidly. [ cite web | first =Richard| last = Vedder| title =Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much| publisher = American Enterprise Institute | month = July | year = 2004 | url= http://www.aei.org/books/bookID.780,filter.all/book_detail2.asp ]

The rising cost of tuition has become a political issue.

Government coordination

Every state has an entity designed to promote coordination and collaboration between higher education institutions.

*Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
*Alabama Commission on Higher Education
*Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board
*The Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education


U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigations revealed the relative ease with which a diploma mill can be created and bogus degrees obtained. [ [http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d041096t.pdf] ] Records obtained from schools and agencies likely understate the extent to which the federal government has paid for degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. Many agencies have difficulty in providing reliable data because they do not have systems in place to properly verify academic degrees or to detect fees for degrees that are masked as fees for training courses. Agency data obtained likely do not reflect the true extent to which senior-level federal employees have diploma mill degrees. This is because the agencies do not sufficiently verify the degrees that employees claim to have or the schools that issued the degrees, which is necessary to avoid confusion caused by the similarity between the names of accredited schools and the names assumed by diploma mills. It was found that there are no uniform verification practices throughout the government whereby agencies can obtain information and conduct effective queries on schools and their accreditation status.

ee also

*Carnegie Basic Classification
*Claremont Colleges
*College admissions in the United States
*Education in the United States
*Five Colleges (Massachusetts)
*Five Colleges of Ohio
*Historically black colleges and universities
*Liberal arts colleges in the United States
*Little Ivies
*Ivy League
*Men's colleges in the United States
*Public Ivy
*Seven Sister Colleges
*Women's colleges in the Southern United States
*Women's colleges in the United States
*Work college


*cite book|author=Christopher Avery|coauthors=Andrew Fairbanks, Richard Zeckhauser|title=|year=2004|publisher=Harvard University Press|location=Cambridge, Massachusetts |id=ISBN 0-674-01620-3
*cite book|author=Howard Greene|coauthors=Mathew W. Greene|title=Greenes' Guides to Educational Planning: The |year=2000|publisher=HarperCollins|location=New York |id=ISBN 0-06-095362-4
*cite book|author=Loren Pope|coauthors=|title=Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will change The Way You Think About College|year=2006|publisher=Penguin Books|location=New York |id=ISBN 0-14-303736-6
*Jacques Steinberg. "The Gatekeepers." New York: Penguin Group, 2002.
*cite book|author= Compiled and Edited by the Staff of the Yale Daily News|coauthors=|title=The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, 2008 (34th edition) |year=2007|publisher=St. Martin's Griffin|location=New York |id= ISBN-13: 978-0-312-36689-6
*cite book|author= United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics |coauthors=|title=Occupational Outlook Handbook |year=2006-2007|publisher=|location=|id=


External links

* [http://www.educationusa.state.gov/ Guide to U.S. schools for international students]
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7506102 How To Choose a College That's Right For You] - from NPR

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