For a very long time America has led the world in higher education, quantitatively at least. In 1825 England still had only two universities, Oxford and Cambridge. The United States already had over fifty colleges for a smaller population. By now, in addition to hundreds of junior colleges (with two-year courses), teachers’ colleges and special schools, there are over 2,000 universities, colleges or other institutions with four year courses leading to bachelors’ degrees, though only some of these postgraduates work as well, for masters’ degrees and doctorates.
Out of more than three million students who graduate from high school each year, about one million go on for “higher education”. Nearly half of all people aged nineteen are in full-time education, but only half of these successfully complete full four year courses for bachelors’ degrees. Some attend junior colleges with two-year courses (from which they may transfer); most start full four-year degree courses. Most students receive federal loans to cover part of their studies; much smaller numbers receive federal grants, or scholarships or bursaries from other sources. Virtually all pay part of their costs themselves, from family contributions or from part-time work or both.
Most college students are in “public” institutions, a minority in “private” ones. Every state has its own full university system, and in a big state there are many separate state campuses, general and special, at different levels. In terms of research output. and of Nobel prizes won by academic staff, the most prestigious is the University of California at Berkeley (across the bay from San Francisco). It, and the University’s campus at Los Angeles, are two major institutions in the California state system, but there are many dozens of other campuses in that system.
Some of the best-known private universities are the oldest ones in the Northeast, known informally as the Ivy League. These include Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The research carried on at Harvard and at its newer neighbor in Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has contributed to the prosperity of the Boston area, though other private and public universities nearby also have some share in this development.
In general the system of higher education in the United States is complex. It comprises four categories of institutions: (1) the university which may contain (a) several colleges for undergraduate students seeking a bachelor’s (four-year) degree and (b) one or more graduate schools for those continuing in specialized studies beyond the bachelor’s degree to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree; (2) the four-year undergraduate institution – the colleges – most of each are non part of a university; (3) the technical training institution, at which high school graduates may take courses ranging from six month to four years in duration and learn a wide variety of technical skills, from hair styling through business accounting to computer programming; (4) and the two-year, or community college, from which students may enter many professions or may transfer to four-year colleges or universities.
Any of these institutions, in any category, might be either public or private, depending on the sours of its funding.
The sheer diversity of American higher education, so baffling to foreigners, baffles many Americans as well. There were, at last official count, 3,075 accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Many of them have their own separate lobbies in Washington: the community colleges, the land-grant schools and other state universities, the former teacher’s colleges and regional state universities, the predominantly black schools, the private colleges. Not to mention women’s schools and Catholic schools affiliated with dozens of other religious denominations…
Harvard University is the pride of the country. Like Oxford and Cambridge it is known all over the world. Are there any similarities in the academic courses these universities offer?
Harvard University, which celebrated its 350th anniversary in 1986, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Founded 16 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, the University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more limit 18,000 degree candidates. An additional 13,000 students are enrolled in one or more courses in the Harvard Extension School. Over 14,000 people work at Harvard, including more than 2,000 faculties. There are also 7,000 faculty appointments in affiliated teaching hospitals.
Seven presidents of the United States - John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and George W. Bush - were graduates of Harvard. Its faculty have produced nearly 40 Nobel laureates.
During its early years, the College offered a classic academic course based on the English university model but consistent with the prevailing Puritan philosophy of the first colonists.