The U.S. higher education system is characterized by accessibility, diversity, and autonomy and is known for both its size and quality. The federal government has no jurisdiction or authority over the recognition of educational institutions, members of the academic professions, programmes or curricula, or degrees or other qualifications. Nearly all U.S. postsecondary institutions are licensed, or chartered, by a state or municipal government to operate under the ownership of either a government (if public) or a private corporation (if independent), and may be for-profit or not-for-profit enterprises. Religious institutions are considered independent, or private. Quality assurance is achieved via the system of voluntary accreditation by specific accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and meet the standards for membership in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Accreditation is a self-regulating process of quality control engaged in by the U.S. postsecondary education community to ensure minimum standards of academic capability, administrative competence, and to promote mutual recognition of qualifications within the system.
3.1. Types of USA colleges and universities*
The “Ivy League” universities
The Ivy League is a specific group of eight academic institutions. These schools are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale.
The league was formed in the 1940s by the presidents of the eight schools to foster intercollegiate football competition “in such a way as to maintain the values of the game, while keeping it in fitting proportion to the main purposes of academic life”.
The characteristics of Ivy League schools include relatively small undergraduate populations, large endowments, prestigious academic reputations, and consistent ranking among the top 15 U.S. universities with the highest tuition fees in the country.
Large public universities in the United States, also referred to as state universities, are closely identified with and supported by the states in which they are located.
Typically, universities of this type enroll tens of thousands of students. They produce the majority of graduate and professional degrees in the country, as well as a significant number of undergraduate degrees.
Public universities play a critical role in regional economic, cultural, and civic development, and many, such as the University of Minnesota, are deeply involved in advancing knowledge and technology through research. These universities are among the major research universities in the United States and frequently have major involvement in international programs around the world.
The level of research intensity varies greatly among state universities. Competitive research grants and contracts awarded to the most prestigious public universities typically amount to hundreds of millions of dollars each year. There is also great variation in the level of support from the states. State universities with large research budgets typically receive 10 to 30 percent of their budgets from the state in which they are located. The remaining portion of their budget comes from tuition and fees, grants/contracts, and gifts.
Some traditions of public universities in the United States are quite different from those in other countries. Even at these state-supported institutions, students have traditionally paid for part of their education through tuition and fees, and these costs to students are increasing. Today the average student takes out loans in order to help pay for his or her education. Private fundraising plays an increasingly important role in funding projects, scholarships, and positions at public universities. Finally, intercollegiate athletics attract intense interest from students, alumni, and members of the general public, and athletic events generate additional revenue.