Higher education in the USA
The system of higher education in the United States is complex. It comprises four categories of institution:
1. The university, which may contain:
- several colleges for undergraduate students seeking a bachelor’s four-year degree;
- one or more graduate schools for those continuing in specialized studies beyond the bachelor’s degree to obtain a master’s or a doctoral degree;
2. The four-year undergraduate institution – the college – most of which are not part of a university;
3. The technical training institution, at which high school graduates may take courses ranging from six months to four years in duration, and learn a wide variety of technical skills, from hair styling through business accounting to computer programming;
4. The two-year, or community college, from which students may enter many professions or may go to four-year colleges or universities. Any of these institutions, in any category, might be either public or private, depending on the source of its funding that is, supported by public funds or supported privately by a church group or other groups acting as private citizens although under a state charter.
A public institution is owned and operated by a government, either a state or a municipal government. The government appropriates large sums of money for the institution’s expenses. Yet these sums are normally not sufficient to cover all expenses, and so the institution is partially dependent on student fees and on gifts.
Institutions of higher learning supported by public funds are not absolutely free. The state colleges and universities charge a fee for tuition or registration. This fee is higher for those who come from outside the state. A private institution receives no direct financial aid from any government, municipal, state or federal. The money used to pay the operating expenses has a threefold origin: tuition fees paid by the students, money given in the form of gifts for immediate use, and the income from invested capital in the possession of the institution and originally received by the institution in the form of the gifts to be invested with only the income to be spend.
Many universities and colleges, both public and private, have gained reputations for providing their students with a higher quality of education. The factors determining whether an institution is one of the best, or one of lower prestige, are: quality of teaching faculty, quality of research facilities, amount of funding available for libraries, special programs, etc., and the competence and number of applicants for admission, i.e. how selective the institution can be in choosing its students. In the United States it is generally recognized that there are more and less desirable institutions in which to study and from which to graduate. The more desirable institutions are generally – but not always – more costly to attend, and having graduated from one of them may bring distinct advantages as an individual seeks employment opportunities and social mobility within the society. Competition to get into such a college is very high.
Usually there is no admission examination required by a state university for those who have finished high school within the state. Sometimes a certain pattern of high school studies is necessary, however, and some state universities require a certain scholastic average, or average of high school grades.
Private colleges and universities, especially the larger, well-known ones such as Harvard (1636), Princeton (1746), and Yale (1701), have rigid scholastic requirements for entrance, including an examination.
It usually takes four years to meet the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. A Master of Arts or Master of Science degree may be obtained in one or two additional years. The highest academic degree is the Doctor of Philosophy. It may take any number of years to complete the original research work necessary to obtain this degree.
Still, many Americans are not satisfied with the condition of higher education in their country. Perhaps the most widespread complaint has to do with the college curriculum as a whole and with the wide range of electives in particular. Such problems are signs that American higher education is changing. Today, many of these colleges are leading schools in the world of scientific research.
To take part in dealing with new problems, most Americans feel they need all the information they can get. Colleges and universities are the most important centers of such learning. And whatever improvements may be demanded, their future is almost guaranteed by the American thirst to advance and be well informed.