Higher education in the United States
Higher education in the United States is an optional final stage of formal learning following secondary education. Higher education, also referred to as post-secondary education, third stage, third level, or tertiary education occurs most commonly at one of the 4,599 Title IV degree-granting institutions, either colleges or universities in the country. These may be public universities, private universities, liberal arts colleges, or community colleges. High visibility issues include greater use of the Internet, such as massive open online courses, competency-based education, cutbacks in state spending, rapidly rising tuition and increasing student loans.
Strong research and funding have helped make American colleges and universities among the world's most prestigious, making them particularly attractive to international students, professors and researchers in the pursuit of academic excellence.
- 1 Statistics
- 2 Types of colleges and universities
- 3 History
- 4 Funding
- 5 Admission process
- 6 International study and student exchange
- 7 Government coordination
- 8 Selected issues
- 9 Criticism
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
As of 2011, the latest figures available in 2014, the US has a total of 4,599 Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions: 2,870 4-year institutions and 1,729 2-year institutions. The US had 21 million students in higher education, roughly 5.7% of the total population. About 13 million of these students were enrolled full-time which was 81,000 students lower than 2010.:table 224
In 2009, 21.3 percent of the adult population above 18 years had attended college, but had no degree, 7.5 percent held an associate's degree, 17.6 percent held a bachelor's degree, and 10.3 percent held a graduate or professional degree. The historical gender gap had practically vanished. New England and Colorado had the highest proportion of college graduates, and the South Central states the lowest.
A US Department of Education longitudinal survey of 15,000 high school students in 2002, and again in 2012 at age 27, found that 84% of the 27-year-olds had some college education, but only 34% achieved a bachelor's degree or higher; 79% owe some money for college and 55% owe more than $10,000; college dropouts were three times more likely to be unemployed than those who finished college; 40% spent some time unemployed and 23% were unemployed for six months or more; and 79% earned less than $40,000 per year.
Types of colleges and universities
Colleges and universities in the U.S. vary in terms of goals: some may emphasize a vocational, business, engineering, or technical curriculum (like polytechnic universities) while others may emphasize a liberal arts curriculum. Many combine some or all of the above, being a comprehensive university.
In the US, the term "college" refers to either one of three types of education institutions:stand-alone higher level education institutions that are not components of a university, including 1) community colleges, 2) liberal arts colleges, or 3) a college within a university, mostly the undergraduate institution of a university. Unlike colleges versus universities in other portions of the world, a stand-alone college is truly stand-alone and is not part of a university, and is also not affiliated with an affiliating university.
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).
American universities developed independent 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.
Community colleges are often (though not always) two-year colleges. They have open admissions, with generally lower tuition than other state or private schools. Graduates receive the associate's degree such as an Associate of Arts (A.A.). 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.
Four-year colleges usually have a larger number of students, offer a greater range of studies, and provide the bachelor's degree, mostly the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). They are either primarily undergraduate institutions (i.e. Liberal Arts Colleges) or the undergraduate institution of a university (such as Harvard College and Yale College).
Liberal arts colleges
Four-year institutions in the U.S. emphasizing the liberal arts are liberal arts colleges, entirely undergraduate institutions and stand-alone. They traditionally emphasize interactive instruction although research is still a component. They are known for being residential and for having smaller enrollment, class size, and higher teacher-student ratios than universities. These colleges 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 teach classes at some Research I universities and other universities. Most are private, although there are public liberal arts colleges. 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 educational institutions which provide both undergraduate and graduate programs. However, for historical reasons, some universities (such as Boston College, Dartmouth College, and The College of William & Mary) have retained the term "college" as their name. Graduate programs grant a variety of master's degrees (like 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.
Some universities have Purdue University is composed of multiple colleges—among others, the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering. Of these Purdue breaks the College of Agriculture down into departments, such as the Department of Agronomy or the Department of Entomology, whereas Purdue breaks down the College of Engineering into schools, such as the School of Electrical Engineering, which enrolls more students than some of its colleges do. As is common in this scheme, Purdue categorizes both its undergraduate students (and faculty and programs) and its post-graduate students (and faculty and programs) via this scheme of decomposition, being a topical decomposition that focuses on an academic sector of directly related academic disciplines.
The American university system is largely decentralized. Public universities are administered by the individual states and territories, usually as part of a state university system. 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 and any institution that receives federal funds as a condition must certify that it has adopted and implemented a drug prevention program that meets regulations.
Each state supports at least one state university and several support many more. California, for example, has three public higher education systems: the 10-campus University of California, the 23-campus California State University, and the 112-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.
Most universities, public and private, have endowments. A 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. As of 2011, seventy-three additional colleges and universities had endowments worth over $1 billion. The largest endowment is that of Harvard University, at $29 billion.
ITT Educational Services Inc., ESI, a big operator of for-profit schools, warned in July it could face restricted funding from the U.S. government for failing to file timely financial reports.
Religious denominations established most early colleges in order to train ministers. Harvard College was founded by the colonial legislature in 1636. Harvard at first focused on training young men for the ministry, and won general support from the Puritan government, some of whose leaders had Attended Oxford or Cambridge . The College of William & Mary was founded by Virginia government in 1693, with 20,000 acres (81 km2) of land for an endowment, and a penny tax on every pound of tobacco, together with an annual appropriation. James Blair, the leading Church of England minister in the colony, was president for 50 years, and the college won the broad support of the Virginia gentry. It trained many of the lawyers, politicians, and leading planters. Yale College was founded in 1701, and in 1716 was relocated to New Haven, Connecticut. The conservative Puritan ministers of Connecticut had grown dissatisfied with the more liberal theology of Harvard, and wanted their own school to train orthodox ministers. New Light Presbyterians in 1747 set up the College of New Jersey, in the town of Princeton; much later it was renamed Princeton University. 
Many Protestant denominations, as well as the Catholics, open small colleges in the nineteenth century. The Catholics, especially, opened a number of women's colleges in the early twentieth century.
All of the schools were small, with a limited undergraduate curriculum based on the liberal arts. Students were drilled in Greek, Latin, geometry, ancient history, logic, ethics and rhetoric, with few discussions and no lab sessions. Originality and creativity were not prized, but exact repetition was rewarded. The college president typically enforced strict discipline, and the upperclassman enjoyed hazing the freshman. Many students were younger than 17, and most of the colleges also operated a preparatory school. There were no organized sports, or Greek-letter fraternities, but literary societies were active. Tuition was very low and scholarships were few. Many of their students were sons of clergymen; most planned professional careers as ministers, lawyers or teachers.
Impact of 19th-century colleges
Summarizing the research of Burke and Hall, Katz concludes that in the 19th century:.
- The nation's many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations.
- These colleges especially promoted upward mobility by preparing ministers and thereby provided towns across the country with a core of community leaders.
- The more elite colleges became increasingly exclusive and contributed relatively little to upward social mobility. By concentrating on the offspring of wealthy families, ministers and a few others, the elite Eastern colleges, especially Harvard, played an important role in the formation of a Northeastern elite with great power.
Law and medical schools
There were no schools of law in the early British colonies, thus no schools of law were in America in colonial times. A few lawyers studied at the highly prestigious Inns of Court in London, while the majority served apprenticeships with established American lawyers. Law was very well established in the colonies, compared to medicine, which was in rudimentary condition. In the 18th century, 117 Americans had graduated in medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, but most physicians in the colonies learned as apprentices. In Philadelphia, the Medical College of Philadelphia was founded in 1765, and became affiliated with the university in 1791. In New York, the medical department of King's College was established in 1767, and in 1770 awarded the first American M.D. degree.
At the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 1,000 colleges with 160,000 students existed in the United States. explosive growth in the number of colleges occurred In bursts, especially 1900-1930, in 1950-1970. State universities grew from small institutions of fewer than 1000 students to gigantic campuses with 40,000 more students, as well as a network of regional campuses around the state. In turn the regional campuses broke away and became separate universities. To handle the explosive growth of K-12 education, every state set up a network of teachers colleges, beginning with Massachusetts in 1830s. After 1950 they became state colleges and then state universities With a broad curriculum.
Roman Catholic colleges and universities
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities was founded in 1899 and continues to facilitate the exchange of information and methods. Vigorous debate in recent decades has focused on how to balance Catholic and academic roles, with conservatives arguing that bishops should exert more control to guarantee orthodoxy.
Junior colleges grew from 20 in number In 1909, to 170 in 1919. By 1922, 37 states had set up 70 junior colleges, enrolling about 150 students each. Meanwhile another 137 were privately operated, with about 60 students each. Rapid expansion continued in the 1920s, with 440 junior colleges in 1930 enrolling about 70,000 students. The peak year for private institutions came in 1949, when there were 322 junior colleges in all; 180 were affiliated with churches, 108 were independent non-profit, and 34 were private Schools run for-profit.
Many factors contributed to rapid growth of community colleges. Students parents and businessmen wanted nearby, low-cost schools to provide training for the growing white collar labor force, as well as for more advanced technical jobs in the blue collar sphere. Four years colleges were also growing, albeit not as fast; however many of them were located in rural or small-town areas away from the fast-growing metropolis. Community colleges continue as open enrollment, low-cost institutions with a strong component of vocational education, as well as a low-cost preparation for transfer students into four-year schools. They appeal to a poorer, older, less prepared element.
Financial assistance for both private and public higher education comes in two primary forms: Grant programs and loan programs. Grant programs consist of money the student receives to pay for higher education that does not need to be paid back, while loan programs consist of money the student receives to pay for higher education that must be paid back. Public higher education institutions (which are partially funded through state government appropriation) and private higher education institutions (which are funded exclusively through tuition and private donations) offer both grant and loan financial assistance programs. Grants to attend public schools are distributed through federal and state governments, as well as through the schools themselves; grants to attend private schools are distributed through the school itself (independent organizations, such as charities or corporations also offer grants that can be applied to both public and private higher education institutions). Loans can be obtained publicly through government sponsored loan programs or privately through independent lending institutions.
Since the Great Recession US universities are transitioning from federal grants to corporate funds and "increasingly reliant on private philanthropy". At the University of Maryland Northrop Grumman funds a cybersecurity concentration, designs the curriculum in cybersecurity, provides computers and pays some cost of a new dorm. At Ohio State IBM partnered to teach big data analytics. Murray State University's engineering program was supported by computer companies. The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at State University of New York in Albany received billions of dollars in private sector investment.
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. The five major parts of admission are ACT/SAT scores, GPA, College Application, Essay, and Letters of Recommendation. Not all colleges require essays or letters of recommendation, though they are often proven to increase chances of acceptance.
International study and student exchange
In 2007-8, American students numbering 262,416 studied outside the country with more than 140,000 of these studying in Europe.
The US is the most popular country in the world in terms of attracting students from other countries, according to  This figure rose to 723,277 in 2010–2011. The largest number, 157,558, came from China. According to Uni in the USA, despite "exorbitant" costs of US universities, higher education in America remains attractive to international students due to "generous subsidies and financial aid packages that enable students from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds to attend the college of their dreams".
Grant, scholarship, and work study program facts
Grant programs, as well as work study programs, can be divided into two primary categories: Need-based financial awards and merit-based financial awards. Most state governments provide need-based scholarship programs, a few also offering merit-based aid. Several need-based grants are provided through the Federal Government based on information provided on a student's Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Federal Pell Grant is a need-based grant available from the Federal government. The federal government also has two other grants that are a combination of need-based and merit-based: the Academic Competitiveness Grant, and the National SMART Grant. In order to receive one of these grants a student must be eligible for the Pell Grant, meet specific academic requirements, and be a US citizen.
A student's eligibility for work study programs is also determined by information collected on the student's FAFSA. Need-based financial awards are money or work study jobs provided to students who do not have the financial resources by themselves to pay for higher education. The intent of need-based financial aid is to close the gap between the required cost to pay for the higher education and the money that is available to pay for the education.
Merit-based financial awards are money given to a student based on a particular gift, talent, conditional situation, or ability that is worthy of the monetary award, regardless of economic standing. The intent of merit-based financial aid is to encourage and reward students who exhibit these qualities with attendance at a school of higher education through the financial incentive. Not only does merit-based assistance benefit the student, but the benefit is seen as reciprocal for the educational institution itself, as students who exhibit exceptional qualities are able to enhance the development of the school itself.
Financial aid has also been found to be linked to increased enrollment. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that an increased availability of any amount financial aid amounts to increased enrollment rates. Evidence also suggests that access to financial aids also increases both “persistence and competition”. Further benefit has been noted with academic-based scholarships, augmenting the effects of financial aid by incentivizing the scholarship with performance-based requirements.
Many different types of loans can be taken out by a student or the student's parents in order to pay for higher education. In general these can be divided into two categories: federal student loans and private student loans.
Federal student loans
There are five kinds of student loans available through the government: Perkins Loans, subsidized Stafford Loans, unsubsidized Stafford Loans, direct loans, and PLUS loans. A student's eligibility for any of these loans, as well as the amount of the loan itself is determined by information on the student's FAFSA. The interest rate and whether or not interest accrues on the loan while the student is in school depends of the type of Federal loan.
Private student loans
Students can also acquire loans privately, through banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, or other finance companies (ref. article pg. 3). Private loans are typically used to supplement federal student loans, which have a yearly borrowing limit. However, private loans typically have more rigid repayment policies.
Education tax credits
US tax payers may be eligible for tax credits designed to help make higher education more affordable. There are two different tax credits meant to help defray the costs of higher education: the Hope Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.
Every state has an entity designed to promote coordination and collaboration between higher education institutions. A few are listed:
- Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- California Postsecondary Education Commission
- Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
- Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board
- The Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education
In the 1980s and 1990s significant changes in the economics of academic life began to be felt, identified by some as a catastrophe in the making and by others as a new era with potentially huge gains for the university. Some critics identified the changes as a new "corporatization of the university." Academic jobs have been traditionally viewed by many intellectuals as desirable, because of the autonomy and intellectual freedom they allow (especially because of the tenure system), despite their low pay compared to other professions requiring extensive education. And until the mid-1970s, when federal expenditures for higher education fell sharply, there were routinely more tenure-track jobs than Ph.D. graduates.
Now, by contrast, despite rising tuition rates and growing university revenues (especially in the U.S.) well-paid professorial positions are rarer, replaced with poorly paid adjunct positions and graduate-student labor. People with doctorates in the sciences, and to a lesser extent mathematics, often find jobs outside of academia (or use part-time work in industry to supplement their incomes), but a Ph.D. in the humanities and many social sciences prepares the student primarily for academic employment. However, in recent years a large proportion of such Ph.D.s—ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent—have been unable to obtain tenure-track jobs. They must choose between adjunct positions, which are poorly paid and lack job security; teaching jobs in community colleges or in high schools, where little research is done; the non-academic job market, where they will tend to be overqualified; or some other course of study, such as law or business.
Indeed, with academic institutions producing Ph.D.s in greater numbers than the number of tenure-track professorial positions they intend to create, there is little question that administrators are cognizant of the economic effects of this arrangement. The sociologist Stanley Aronowitz wrote: "Basking in the plenitude of qualified and credentialed instructors, many university administrators see the time when they can once again make tenure a rare privilege, awarded only to the most faithful and to those whose services are in great demand".
Most people who are knowledgeable of the academic job market advise prospective graduate students not to attend graduate school if they must pay for it; graduate students who are admitted without tuition remission and a reasonable stipend are forced to incur large debts that they will be unlikely to repay quickly. In addition, most people recommend that students obtain full and accurate information about the placement record of the programs they are considering. At some programs, most Ph.D.s get multiple tenure-track offers, whereas at others few obtain any; such information is clearly very useful in deciding what to do with the next 5–7 years of one's life.
Some believe that, as a number of Baby Boomer professors retire, the academic job market will rebound. However, others predict that this will not result in an appreciable growth of tenure-track positions, as universities will merely fill their needs with low-paid adjunct positions. Aronowitz ascribed this problem to the economic restructuring of academia as a whole:
In fact, the program of restructuring on university campuses, which entails reducing full-time tenure-track positions in favor of part-time, temporary, and contingent jobs, has literally "fabricated" this situation. The idea of an academic "job market" based on the balance of supply and demand in an open competitive arena is a fiction whose effect is to persuade the candidate that (he or she) simply lost out because of bad luck or lack of talent. The truth is otherwise.
The effects of a growing pool of unemployed, underemployed, and undesirably employed Ph.D.s on many countries' economies as a whole is undetermined.
Rankings of tertiary institutions
Numerous organizations produce rankings of universities in the United States each year. A 2010 University of Michigan study has confirmed that the rankings in the United States have significantly affected colleges' applications and admissions. Referred to as the "granddaddy of the college rankings", America's best–known American college and university rankings have been compiled since 1983 by U.S. News & World Report and are widely regarded as the most influential of all college rankings.
On 19 June 2007, during the annual meeting of 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."  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." 
Financial value of degrees
Studies have looked at the financial payoff to the large investment in time, tuition, student loans, and lost earnings that is typically required to receive an academic degree. People with higher education have always tended to have higher salaries and less unemployment than people with less education. However, the payoff for different majors varies greatly. In 2010–2011, the median earnings of bachelor's degree holders over the age of 29 years ranged from $44,000 for educators to $83,000 for engineers. The earnings of master's degree holders over the age of 29 years ranged from $57,000 for educators to $101,000 for engineers.
Some fields of study produce many more graduates than the professions can take in. Due to the resulting higher education bubble, these graduates often have to consider jobs for which they are overqualified, or that have no academic requirements.
Although an associate degree is, on average, less financially lucrative in the long term than a bachelor's degree, it can still provide a respectable income with much less student debt. In fact, new research into earnings shows that recent community-college graduates in certain specialties can make more than recent university graduates with a bachelor's degree. In spite of persistently high unemployment, there is still a demand for some skilled trades that often only require an associate’s degree or vocational training, such as technicians, draftsmen, radiation therapists, paralegals, and machinists.
Socioeconomic status can play a part in one's chances of taking advantage of higher education. A 2011 national study found that college students with a high socioeconomic status persisted in college 25 percent more than students with a low socioeconomic status. In fact, students with a high socioeconomic status are 1.55 times more likely to persist in college than students with a low socioeconomic status. Attaining even higher degrees than a bachelor's degree can also be affected by socioeconomic status. A 2008 study reports that 11 percent of students with low socioeconomic status report earning a master's, medical, or law degree compared to 42 percent of high socioeconomic students. Analyst Jeffrey Selingo wondered whether higher education had less and less ability to level the playing field. A 2007 study found that 52 percent of low-income students who qualified for college enrolled within 2 years of graduation compared to 83 percent of high-income students. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2009 high school graduates from low-income families enrolled in college immediately at a rate of 55 percent. In comparison, 84 percent of high school graduates from high-income families enrolled immediately into college. Middle-class families also saw lower rates with 67 percent enrolling in college immediately. It also found that a high percentage of students who delayed enrollment in college attended high schools that had a high level of participation in the free and reduced lunch program. Students who work long hours in high school are less likely to pursue post-secondary education. Students who had access to financial aid contacts were more likely to enroll in higher education than students who did not have these contacts.
Socioeconomic status can also influence performance rates once at a university. According to a 2008 study, students with a low socioeconomic status study less, work more hours, have less interaction with faculty, and are less likely to join extra-curricular activities. 42 percent of students with low socioeconomic status indicated that they worked more than 16 hours a week during school, with a high percentage working up to 40 hours a week. Students with low income may not apply for higher education. These students are often racial minorities. This is also evidence of a positive relation between socioeconomic status and social integration at university. In other words, middle-class students take part in more formal and informal social activities and have a greater sense of belonging to their universities than do working-class students.
Race can play a part in which students enroll in college. A 2007 study found that African Americans are more likely to delay enrolling in college. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2009 rates of immediate college enrollment increased for Asian Americans and whites, but not for African Americans  The 2011 Condition of Education study found that in 2008, 63 percent of college students were white, while 14 percent were African American and 12 percent were Hispanic. Race can play a part in a student's persistence rate in college: Drop out rates are highest with the Native American and African American population, both greater than 50 percent. Caucasians and Asian Americans had the lowest dropout rates.
In discussing student's access to education in the United States, one area of concentration that current research has focused on in the last half century is the differences that exist between students entry and completion rates based on gender. In a study done by Bailey & Dynarski (2011) it was observed that the increase in inequality that has been observed in the last 40+ years has been predominantly driven by women.
Within higher-income families that are sending more children to universities and colleges, women make up a greater percentage (15% compared to 7%) of this growth. While the largest gap of educational attainment between men and women is seen in the highest income group, women are attaining higher levels of education than men in every income group. This observation poses a unique and confusing problem: if educational attainment has a positive correlation to familial income, why are more women entering and completing college than men? Bailey and Dynarski proposed that the observed educational gap by gender may be due to differing incentives to accumulate human capital. Men and women may participate in what they term "segregated labor markets" and "asymmetric marriage markets," and perhaps, to make up for those perceived market differences, females are more motivated to obtain higher levels of education.
The gap of educational attainment between men and women is starting at a young age and affecting students access to higher education later on in life. According to Bailey & Dynarski, there are two main explanations for the gender differences in educational attainment and inequality. First, men and women respond in different and gender-specific ways to family and/or school circumstances, and second, the differences in circumstances across men and women of the same family income and race have shaped inequality in educational attainment for some time. More specifically, the bulk of primary and secondary teachers are female and women run most single parent households. The absence of a strong male role model affects males differently from females. Studies by Bailey & Dynarski have shown that teachers provide role models to demographically similar students, and their unintended biases affect their interactions and assessments of their students.
When comparing graduation rates between men and women, in children born after 1960, more white women were graduating from college than white men, which was a change from children born before this time.
It is estimated that 65,000 illegal immigrants graduate from high school each year. These graduates have lived in the United States for more than 5 years and most were often brought to the United States by their parents as young children. This leaves the U.S. Government with the question of what rights to give the illegal immigrants after their graduation, particularly with access to higher education. A 2010 study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) on illegal immigrants and higher education:
Installing pathways to higher education and in-state tuition for undocumented students in the United States presents both opportunities and constraints in developing practices that promote social justice, equity, and equality. Those who are sympathetic to the challenges facing undocumented students may support opportunities to promote the potential of those who are deserving of incorporation and membership in U.S. society. On the other hand, proponents of tighter borders and tougher immigration laws may view all undocumented people, including model, hardworking young people, as "illegals" or temporary workers and consider them to be drains on the resources of society. This puts educational administrators in precarious positions since they are professionals who are trained to promote and support students in their pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement. Therefore, many professionals are left with little choice but to search for individuals and resources already established within outlaw cultures." 
In 1996, the United States passed a law banning states from offering residency benefits to illegal immigrants that they didn't then also offer to every U.S. citizen. This basically made it so that states could not offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, even if they technically qualified based on residency status. States have argued the clarity of this law and many have enacted their own laws allowing in-state tuition to be given on the claims that it is based on high school attendance and not explicitly residency. This law is especially important since illegal immigrants are also unable to obtain governmental financial aid and are unable to legally work, leaving them without sources to help pay for out-of-state tuition.
The DREAM Act was introduced in 2001 and aims to give more access to higher education for illegal immigrants by repealing the law 1996 law. It also aimed to set up pathways for students who obtain higher education to become legal residents. The act has been introduced in many states and many different times, but has still not been passed. Critics of the act argue that it encourages more illegal immigration, that schools will engage in grade inflation so that border-line students can take advantage of the act, and that a financial burden could be placed on taxpayers. Proponents argue the opposite, emphasizing that giving the illegal immigrants an opportunity at higher education means they will be more self-sufficient in the future, contributing more to taxes and relying less on state resources. They also claim that children should not be punished for the actions of their parents and that giving them this opportunity would encourage them to be contributing and law abiding citizens. Whether this act would have positive effects on illegal immigrants attending college is still hard to see since not many states have actually done it and the time span has not been enough for thorough research.
The 2010 UNLV study recommends key policy changes to support illegal immigrants access to higher education.
In general, practitioners need to weigh opportunities against constraints and consider the potential opportunities to promote social justice, equality, and equity in higher education access. Rather than considering undocumented students as "illegals" and restricting their access to legitimate educational pathways, it is recommended that, at the very least, those in positions of power adopt an outlaw cultural framework to support the strengths inherent within diversity as well as pursue avenues of social justice for undocumented students who are seeking to access higher education to improve their future and secure permanent membership in U.S. society.
Cost and finances
Critics contend that tuition increases have outpaced inflation. A member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, Richard Vedder, argued that third-party tuition payments from government or private sources have insulated students from bearing the full cost of their education; as a result, costs have risen more rapidly than necessary. Analyst Robert E. Wright predicted cost increases without matching increases in quality would continue until professors were encouraged to own colleges in private partnerships; he predicted that would not happen until barriers to entry are decreased and government education subsidies are paid directly to students instead of to colleges and universities. A report in The Economist criticized American universities for generally losing sight of how to contain costs. Analyst Jeffrey Selingo in the Chronicle of Higher Education blamed rising costs on unnecessary amenities such as private residence rooms, luxury dining facilities, climbing walls, and sometimes even so-called lazy rivers similar to ones found in amusement parks. The 2014 documentary Ivory Tower described colleges as participating in an "arms race" to provide the best luxury facilities, and asked whether college was worth the expense in an era of "predatory loan systems" and job scarcity and rampant inequality. One analyst argued that second-tier schools with Ivy League Envy had become "so obsessed with rising up the academic hierarchy" that they focused too heavily on research while neglecting undergraduate education, and argued that schools should embrace Internet technology and online software to streamline costs.
Another issue is the rising cost of textbooks. There are textbook exchanges for students who will accept a used text at a lower price. Lower priced alternatives offered by Flat World Knowledge are now available but have yet to make a significant impact on overall textbook prices.
Many students lack the financial resources to pay tuition up front and must rely on student loans and scholarships from their university, the federal government, or a private lender. All but a few charity institutions and the United States Service academies charge students tuition, although scholarships (both merit-based and need-based) are widely available. Generally, private universities charge much higher tuition than their public counterparts, which rely on state funds to make up the difference. Because each state supports its own university system with state taxes, most public universities charge much higher rates for out-of-state students. In 2002, state governments gave their state colleges a total of $66 billion to partially subsidize student tuition. The average tuition then of a state college was $4,081 annually for a four-year college. The average cost of a private school was $18,273.
The total cost of all higher education in 2002 was $289 billion.
One theory for the continual increase in tuition is that universities prioritize endowment growth over educational interests. A possible explanation for this is that universities are concerned with intergenerational equity for the benefit of future generations of students, as well as the overall benefit to society. This means that the universities will usually seek to grow their endowments to sustain their level of activity well into the future. Arguments against this justification mainly focus on the idea that the intergenerational equity theory does not accurately reflect the behavior of institutions with large endowments. Peter Conti-Brown, for example, describes how many of the elite universities cut their budgets during the recession despite sitting atop multi-billion-dollar endowments, which were theoretically supposed to act as cushions during such economic downturns.
Still, tuition increases may not be completely the responsibility of the higher education institutions. Instead, an article written by Archibald and Feldman suggests that tuition increases simply reflect the increasing costs of producing higher education. According to the cost-disease theory, it would be difficult to achieve cuts in per-student cost without the deterioration of quality in the education. While the decision-making of college administrators does come into play, the argument is that there are more fundamental and economy-wide factors that result in cost increases. A general economic trend is that costs in service industries grow more rapidly than in manufacturing industries, and increase in higher education costs is simply a reflection of this phenomenon. Some universities describe being caught in a dilemma where they are pressured to offer broader curricula and improve facilities to attract new students on one hand, but on the other hand these universities must raise tuition to compensate for state spending cuts and rising expenses.
Annual undergraduate tuition varies widely from state to state, and many additional fees apply. Listed tuition prices generally reflect the upper bound that a student may be charged for tuition. In many cases, the "list price" of tuition-—that is, the tuition rate broadcast on a particular institution's marketing platforms—-may turn out to be different from the actual (or net) tuition charged per student. A student that has applied for institution-based funding will know his or her net tuition upon receipt of a financial aid package. Since tuition does not take into account other expenses such as the cost of living, books, supplies and other expenses, such additional amounts can cause the overall cost of college to exceed the tuition rate multiplied by the number of courses the student is planning to take.
In 2009, average annual tuition at a public university (for residents of the state) was $7,020. Tuition for public school students from outside the state is generally comparable to private school prices, although students can often qualify for state residency after their first year. Private schools are typically much higher, although prices vary widely from "no-frills" private schools to highly specialized technical institutes. Depending upon the type of school and program, annual graduate program tuition can vary from $15,000 to as high as $50,000. Note that these prices do not include living expenses (rent, room/board, etc.) or additional fees that schools add on such as "activities fees" or health insurance. These fees, especially room and board, can range from $6,000 to $12,000 per academic year (assuming a single student without children). Such fees are not at all government-regulated, allowing a theoretically enormous increase each year. While tuition is monitored to some degree in legislatures and is often publicly discussed, fees on the side are frequently overlooked in public opinion and regulatory policies. Although tuition costs have risen, the rising costs have had little effect on transfer rates and overall enrollment. In a study on effects of rising tuition costs, analysis revealed that the rising costs of colleges have “weak or no effects” on enrollment. Rising tuition costs have not deterred enrollment “as long as students believe the potential return of a college education is much greater than the cost”.
In addition to tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and fees, students also face a less-acknowledged opportunity cost in years of missed potential income. A high school educated person could expect to earn about $84,000 for four years of work; in choosing to attend and pay for college, an individual forgoes those earnings.
In 2010, community colleges cost an average of $2,544 per year for tuition and fees. A private four-year college cost an average of $26,273 annually for tuition and fees.
College costs are rising while state appropriations for aid are shrinking. This has led to debate over funding at both the state and local levels. From 2002 to 2004 alone, tuition rates at public schools increased by just over 14 percent, largely due to dwindling state funding. A more moderate increase of 6 percent occurred over the same period for private schools. Between 1982 and 2007, college tuition and fees rose three times as fast as median family income, in constant dollars. In the 2012 fiscal year, state and local financing declined to $81.2 billion, a drop in funding compared to record-high funding in 2008 of $88 billion in a pre-recession economy.
To combat costs colleges have hired adjunct professors to teach. In 2008 these teachers cost about $1,800 per 3-credit class as opposed to $8,000 per class for a tenured professor. Two-thirds of college instructors were adjuncts, according to one estimate; a second estimate from NBC News in 2013 was that 76% of college professors were in "low-paying, part-time jobs or insecure, non-tenure positions," often lacking health insurance. There are differences of opinion on whether these adjuncts teach more or less effectively than regular tenured or tenure-track professors. There is some suspicion that student evaluation of adjuncts, along with doubts on the part of teachers about subsequent continued employment, can lead to grade inflation.
Additionally, schools are increasingly using price discrimination as a strategy across different programs to increase revenue (i.e., employing strategies like a for-profit business). Yet the school is still fundamentally different from a for-profit business entity in that it is restricted by its school mission. For example, a school may charge particular types of students (such as low-income or moderate-income students) less tuition in order to help them. Another example is merit-based aid, in which the school will grant high-achieving students money.
Princeton sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford published a book-length study of admissions that found that an upper-middle-class white applicant was three times as likely to be admitted to an American college as a lower-class white with similar qualification. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has cited this as an example of how U.S. universities can exacerbate wealth inequality. A 2006 report by Future of Children, a collaboration of Princeton and the Brookings Institution, concluded that "the current process of admission to, enrollment in, and graduation from colleges and universities contributes to economic inequality as measured by income and wealth." According to Suzanne Mettler of Cornell, government policy towards higher education has an effect of deepening inequality and disadvantaging students from the lower classes.
Athletics have been increasingly subsidized by tuition. One in eight of the 202 Division 1 colleges actually netted more money than they spent on athletics between the years 2005 and 2010. At the few money-making schools, football and sometimes basketball sales support the school's other athletic programs. Athletes, on average, cost six times what it cost to educate the non-athlete. Spending per student varied from $10,012 to $19,225; cost per athlete varied from $41,796 to $163,931.
Issues related to financial aid
The portion of state budget funding spent on higher education has decreased by 40 percent since 1978, while at the same time most tuition fees have significantly increased. Between 2000 and 2010, the cost of tuition and room and board at public universities increased by 37 percent. The misconception persists that there simply is less money in "the system" to help pay for college these days. Actually, the reverse is true. In 1965, $558 million was available for financial aid. In 2005 more than $129 billion was available. As college costs have risen, so has the amount of money available to finance a college education. The kernel of truth in this myth is that the proportion of gift aid and self-help funding has shifted: loans and work make up a larger percentage of aid packages than they once did. During the early 1980s, higher education funding saw a shift from reliance on state and federal government funding to a greater reliance on family contributions and student loans. Pell Grants, which were created to offset the cost of college for low-income students, started funding more middle-class students, stretching the funds thinner for everyone. During the mid-1990s 34 percent of the cost for college was covered by the maximum offered Pell Grant, compared to 84 percent during the 1970s.
During Clinton's presidency, funding for higher education was focused on creating tax benefits tied to attending college. These proposed policies put less emphasis on developing grants to allow students to attend college. Some have argued that this approach did not adequately provide aid to those students most in need of it. Furthermore, there was fear that tax deductions or credits would actually work to drive up tuition costs.
The federal government also began funding fewer grant programs and more loan programs, leaving students with higher amounts of debt. In 2003, almost 70 percent of federal student aid awarded was student loans, which was a much higher percentage than just a decade before. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that during the 2007–2008 school year, 66% of degree recipients had borrowed money to complete their degree; 36% of these graduates had to borrow from state or private sources, averaging total loan amounts of $13,900; 95% of these loans were private. On average, a student borrowed $24,700.36 during the 2007–2008 school year. One estimate of total debt of all ex-students in 2011 was $1 trillion. Furthermore, the economic troubles of the recent decade have left higher education funding shifted toward other needs because higher education institutions have the ability to gain extra funds through raising tuition and private donations.
Policy changes in higher education funding raise questions about the impact on student performance and access to higher education. Many early studies focused on social integration and a person's individual attributes as the factors for degree completion. More recent studies have begun to look at larger factors including state funding and financial support. It has been found that providing need-based aid proved to increase degree completion in 48 states. There has also been a positive correlation between providing merit-based aid and degree completion. Also, as the level to qualify for state need-based aid is lowered, the probability of persistence increases. Low-income families now have to pay more to attend college, making it harder for such populations to attain higher education. In 1980, low-income families had to use 13 percent of their income to pay for one year of college. In 2000, this proportion grew to 25 percent of their income, while high-income families use less than 5 percent of their income. Thus, fully understanding how need and merit (non-need) aid is determined is critical when looking to ensure greater access to higher education. It is clear that at both private and public colleges and universities family income has a significant impact on need-based financial aid. As colleges and universities compete for students, the demarcation between merit-based aid and need-based aid is less clear. While there has been a traditional distinction between need-based and merit-based funding, recent trends indicate that these two categories are more blurred than their labels would suggest. Specifically, research confirms that merit-based financial aid often takes into account student need and vice versa.
Some critics of financial aid claim that, because schools are assured of receiving their fees no matter what happens to their students, they have felt free to raise their fees to very high levels, to accept students of inadequate academic ability, and to produce too many graduates in some fields of study. About one-third of students, whether or not they graduate or find jobs that match their credentials, are financially burdened for much of their lives by their debt obligations, instead of being economically productive citizens. When those former students default on their obligations, the burdens are shifted to taxpayers. Lastly, the proportion of graduates who come from poor backgrounds has actually declined since 1970.
Controversy has also risen regarding performance-based funding. Performance-based funding is a system in which the state’s higher education budget is allocated to various institutions by several measures to best determine allocation of funds. This system has been criticized due to the complexity of the measurements as well as the resulting changed environment and goals of campuses. Many have criticized performance-funding, noting an overemphasis of test scores without consideration of other possible measures.
A 2006 report by Michael S. McPherson and Morton Owen Schapiro indicated that financial aid to students in the 1990s held the strongest correlation with student SAT scores. The report was conducted in the interest of looking directly at the relationship between financial aid grants and various factors, with specific focus on the variables of family income level and SAT scores and minor focus on personal variables, such as race and gender. The reason these factors were given greater consideration was that, according to McPherson and Schapiro, the information was readily available and it led to a more meaningful comparison across students than variables like high school GPA. The report also made clear that it ignored the distinctions that universities make between "need-based" and "merit-based" aid. McPherson and Schapiro argued, "Although it is commonplace to track the importance of merit as opposed to need-based aid based on the responses given by college and university administrators on survey forms, we have argued that the distinction between 'need-based' and 'non-need-based' student grants is a slippery one." The findings in the report indicated that "the principle of awarding financial aid strictly in relation to ability to pay is becoming an increasingly less important factor in the distribution of aid in America's private colleges and universities."
Some low-income students have to work and study at the same time. This may adversely impact their performance in school.
Most discussions on how higher education funding is determined have focused on the economic and demographic influences; however, according to a 2010 study on the relationship between politics and state funding many political factors influence higher education funding. First, as the number of interest groups for higher education in a state grows, so does the amount of money given to higher education. Second, states with a more liberal political ideology give more funding to higher education. Third, governors with more control over the state budget tend to award less money to higher education. This is attributed again to the fact that higher education funding is considered to be tradable with other programs. Fourth, a more professional state legislature correlates with more funding for higher education. (Professional in here refers to a legislature that acts much as the U.S. Congress does in that members have many staff members and spend more time in session.) Fifth, the more diverse a state population becomes, the less support there will be for higher education funding.
There has been rapid growth in recent years of for-profit schools, of which the University of Phoenix is the largest with an enrollment over 400,000 nationwide. Other large institutions, with numerous branch campuses and online programs include Devry and Kaplan University. Altogether, they enroll 9% of the students. They have aggressively recruited among military veterans, and in 2010 received 36% percent of all the tuition aid paid by the federal government. The University of Phoenix received 88% of its income from federal aid to students; the maximum allowed is 90%. In 2001, the University of Phoenix opened a two-year online program oriented toward lower-income students who receive federal financial aid; in 2010 it had over 200,000 students seeking two-year degrees. Critics have pointed to the heavy dependence on federal loans and grants to students, the low student completion rate, and the inability of the majority of graduates to pay their student loans because they failed to secure high-paying jobs. The University of Phoenix reports that in 2009, 23% of its students completed an associate degree within three years of enrolling, and for bachelor's degree students, its six-year completion rate was 34%.
The amount of debt that students have after graduation has become an issue of concern, especially given the weak job market after 2008. Nearly all loans are financed by the federal government at an artificially low rate, but students sometimes obtain private loans (which generally have higher interest rates and start accumulating interest immediately). In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education announced stricter eligibility rules for federal financing of loans to student at for-profit schools, which were experiencing higher default rates. Student loans total $1 trillion, averaging $25,000 each for 40 million debtors. The debtors average age is 33. Forty percent of the debt is owed by people 40 or older. A 2013 poll by NBC News found that more than 40% of college graduates from 2011 to 2012 were underemployed, and that some were "heavily in debt because of the cost of their education."
Vedder claims students study on average 30 hours a week, less than they spend on recreation. He quotes Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa as finding that critical thinking skills are little higher among college seniors than freshmen.
Research since the 1970s have consistently found that professors are more liberal and Democratic than the general population. Surveys conducted in the last 10 years indicate that between 44%-62% faculty self-identify as liberal, while 9%-18% self-identify as conservative. Conservative self-identification is higher in two-year colleges than other categories of higher education but has been declining overall. Those in natural sciences, engineering, and business were less liberal than those in the social sciences and humanities. A 2005 study found that liberal views had increased compared to the older studies. 15% in the survey described themselves as right of center. While the humanities and the social sciences are still the most left leaning, 67% of those in other fields combined described themselves as left of center. In business and engineering, liberals outnumber conservatives by a 2:1 ratio. The study also found that more women, practicing Christians, and Republicans were employed to teach at lower ranked schools (such as two-year community colleges or medium sized universities) than would be expected from their professional accomplishments, measured objectively. One conservative critic has suggested that liberal "Groupthink" explains why liberals appear to be overrepresented.
A 2007 study criticized some recent surveys, such as the above 2005 study, on methodological grounds as well as being motivated by conservative concerns. It also pointed to the influence of conservative think tanks outside academia. In its own survey, it found that while conservatives were rare, there was a large centrist group between those self-identifying as liberals or conservatives. More moderate views were more common in younger professors, although also in this age group liberals were several times more common than conservatives. The age group with most liberal professors were the professors who were teenagers or young adults in the radical 1960s. Of all surveyed, 3% identified themselves as Marxists with the highest numbers being in social sciences (17%) and humanities (5%).
A 2011 study disagreed with younger professors being more moderate and instead argued that the average view may shift further left in the future. The study also found that the years of college education had little effect on the political view of undergraduates. There was little evidence that right leaning professors were treated poorly. Regarding the cause of the apparent liberal overrepresentation, it found that conservative students preferred to major in fields leading to immediate employment, such as hotel management or accounting, rather than further studies. Self-selection has also been suggested by others as the main explanation.
In one study the researchers sent out e-mails to graduate studies directors at top ranked departments. They claimed to be an undergraduate asking for guidance regarding if this was a suitable department. The e-mails differed regarding which presidential campaign the undergraduate had worked for. There was no statistical difference in the replies. On the other hand, a survey of sociology professors found that one quarter stated that they would be more likely to vote for hiring a declared Democrat and less likely to vote for hiring a declared Republican. Around 40% stated that they would be less likely to vote for hiring an Evangelical or a member of the National Rifle Association. Another survey found a similar situation for humanities and other social sciences professors.
A 2007 poll found that 58% of Americans thought that college professors' political bias was a "serious problem". This varied depending on the political views of those asked. 91% of "very conservative" adults agreed compared with 3% of liberals.
While traditional approach to pedagogy in higher education focuses on teacher's responsibility, Armstrong (2012) argues that students have "natural learning" ability. They should take responsibility for their learning. Teacher-centered approach inhibits learning.
While many private liberal arts colleges are located in the Midwest and Northeast, population growth of 18-year-olds is strongest in the South and Southwest, making it more difficult to attract potential students to "fly halfway across the country" to get a degree, according to Jeffrey Selingo of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Association of American Universities
- Campus carry in the United States
- Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education
- Center for Excellence in Higher Education
- College admissions in the United States
- Education in the United States
- G. I. American Universities
- Hispanic-serving institution
- Historically black colleges and universities
- History of education in the United States
- History of education in the United States: Bibliography
- Liberal arts colleges in the United States
- List of Roman Catholic universities and colleges in the United States
- Men's colleges in the United States
- National Collegiate Athletic Association
- Transfer admissions in the United States
- Women's colleges in the United States
- Work college
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