The Higher Learning In America

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In Michigan, for example, the land-grant institution is Michigan State University. The land-grant colleges were founded to provide practical information and encourage scientific research about agriculture and the mechanical arts engineering. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the academic culture of the professional faculty as an academic teacher and scholar also emerged. The twentieth century saw the continuing development of large, complex state-wide systems of public colleges and universities, and the continued expansion of smaller, private colleges and universities.

Today, there are over 3, colleges and universities in the United States.


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A distinct system of public colleges and universities and private colleges and universities has emerged. Statewide public systems usually have multiple institutions and campuses and have some type of state-level coordination such as a Higher Education Board or Authority. Most institutions then have a local Board of Trustees or Regents who oversee the individual institution within the system.

This public system includes two-year community colleges.

Higher Education in America

Many of the larger public and private institutions provide for both teaching and research, and some of the largest institutions enroll 40, or more students on one campus. Private colleges and universities also include a variety of types of campuses but are usually not part of a larger system and usually have a local Board of Trustees. Cleary University is such a private institution governed by a Board of Trustees. Some colleges and universities offer professional or specialized degrees such as medical or law degrees. The chief executive office in most American colleges or universities is the president or chancellor.

Typically the president or chancellor is assisted by vice presidents or vice chancellors or, in some cases, administrative deans who oversee particular parts of an institution such as student affairs or business affairs. Most institutions are organized into academic and administrative units. Academic units are headed by deans or chairs, and faculty is part of the academic units.

Faculty typically holds the academic ranks of instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or professor.

Administrative units would include such offices as Registrar, Admissions, or Student Services. Each academic program headed by a Dean Faculty are located within academic departments. Other administrative and support staff are located within departments like Admissions, Business Office, or Human Resources.

In order to understand how this informal and loosely structured "system" of diverse institutions serves the wide-ranging needs of American society, it is necessary to identify some of the main features that define the major types of institutions found in American higher education. In Robert Birnbaum noted that institutional diversity can be defined across several categories of institutional features. The most useful of these categories include defining differences in terms of the following dimensions of institutional diversity: systemic, structural, constituent, and reputational. Systemic diversity refers to differences in types of institutions with regard to their size and scope of mission.

Starting in the s, there have been many attempts to develop classification systems for categorizing postsecondary institutions in this manner. The best-known and most well-established classification system was developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and has come to be known as the "Carnegie Classification. The commission "sought to identify categories of colleges and universities that would be relatively homogeneous with respect to the functions of the institutions as well as with respect to characteristics of students and faculty members" Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, p.

The Carnegie Classification was originally published in and has been updated several times, most recently in It is the framework most often used in describing institutional diversity in the United States and is relied upon by researchers and educational leaders to ensure appropriate comparisons between and among colleges and universities.

Within most categories are subcategories. Master's colleges and universities fall into one of two categories master's I or II and typically offer a wide range of undergraduate programs as well as graduate education through the master's degree. Category I master's institutions award more master's degrees in a wider range of disciplines than do their category II peers.

Liberal arts colleges award at least half of their degrees in liberal arts fields, whereas general colleges award less than half of their degrees in liberal arts fields. Colleges and universities identified as specialized institutions in the Carnegie Classification may award degrees ranging from bachelor's to the doctorate, but they award the majority of those degrees in a single field.

There are several subcategories of specialized institutions, including theological seminaries and other specialized faith-related institutions, medical schools and centers, other health profession schools, schools of engineering and technology, schools of business and management, fine arts schools, schools of law, teachers colleges, military institutes, and other types of specialized institutions.

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The Higher Learning in America

Tribal colleges are generally tribally controlled and located on reservations. While the Carnegie classification system is often used in making qualitative distinctions among institutions, the commission denies that this is the classification's purpose. In his foreword to the edition of the classification, Ernest Boyer emphasized that the classification "is not intended to establish a hierarchy among learning institutions. Rather, the aim is to group institutions according to their shared characteristics, and we oppose the use of the classification as a way of making qualitative distinctions among the separate sectors" Carnegie Foundation, p.

Nevertheless, the process of "institutional drift," in which colleges strive to climb the hierarchy, is well documented in the literature. In the early twenty-first century, the Carnegie Foundation was in the process of reassessing the classification system, rethinking how to characterize similarities and differences among institutions, and allowing multiple classifications of institutions. This work was expected to be concluded in While the Carnegie Foundation's system is the most widely used typology in educational research, other classification schemes exist and are usually used for other purposes, such as providing information to prospective students and their families.

For example, U.

The higher learning in America : a memorandum on the conduct of universities by business men

News and World Report classifies colleges and universities in several typologies. Institutions are divided into categories by whether they tend to serve a national or a regional population and then are rank-sorted into four "tiers. Although such categorization schemes are useful in a system that includes tremendous institutional variety, such simplification hides the true complexity of the higher education system of the United States.

For example, an institution categorized as a "research university" may also have its roots in land-grant legislation, or may be single-sex or religiously affiliated. Other key hidden aspects of institutional identity include the institution's historical roots—whether it began as a land-grant college, historically black college or university, Hispanic-serving college, tribal college, or religiously affiliated institution.

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Additionally, there are less apparent dimensions of institutional difference, such as ratios between part-time and full-time students or residential versus commuter students. Athletic division membership is an important facet of institutional identity, as is location region, urban, rural, suburban.


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  • Hence, it is important to pay attention to other aspects of institutional diversity in order to truly understand the nature of the diverse system of American higher education. Structural diversity focuses on the ways in which institutions are organized and controlled. Structural diversity is most often defined in terms of type of institutional control—public or private. Publicly controlled institutions are funded primarily by the government usually by state governments and are typically part of a larger state system.

    Private institutions are primarily funded by nongovernment sources and tend to be independent with their own private governing boards. There are many more private institutions in the United States than there are public colleges and universities, although public higher education has grown significantly since the s. While there is no national system of higher education, all states have developed some type of public postsecondary educational system.


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    There are a number of ways in which these systems are structured and organized. Public colleges and universities differ both in the ways in which they are governed and in the ways in which they are coordinated as part of a larger state system. All states assign responsibility for operating public colleges and universities to governing boards, and there are three main types of governing board structures: consolidated governance systems, segmental systems, and single-institution boards.

    Consolidated boards are responsible for all public postsecondary institutions in a particular state, although in some states this may apply only to the four-year institutions. Segmental systems have different governing boards for different types of campuses; in some states this may mean that public research universities are governed by one board, comprehensive state colleges by another board, and community colleges by yet another board. States that use single-institution boards grant governance autonomy to each public campus by allowing each to have its own board.

    Public boards vary in the degree to which they have formal governance authority and the extent to which they merely coordinate activities across the state's public postsecondary educational sector without any substantive decision-making powers. Public institutions within these systems tend to fall into one of three major categories: universities, state colleges, and community colleges. Public universities typically grant a full range of graduate degrees master's and doctoral , tend to have a strong research emphasis, and typically have large student enrollments.

    State colleges are typically smaller, may serve a particular region of a state, and usually offer both bachelor's and master's degrees.

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    Community colleges are two-year colleges that provide associate degrees, preparation for transfer to four-year institutions, vocational and technical education and training, and large numbers of continuing education offerings. Some public institutions have been identified as land-grant institutions.

    Land-grant institutions were first established by the Morrill Act of , which provided federal funds for establishing universities that 1 were open to all types of students including women, minorities, and low-income students , 2 offered degrees in practical and applied fields such as engineering and agriculture, and 3 shared knowledge with citizens throughout their state. Private institutions are less easily characterized than are their public counterparts.

    Private institutions cover the full range of missions and structures found in American higher education. The most prestigious and highly selective institutions, whether they be Ivy League research universities or smaller liberal arts colleges, are private; but so too are the least well-known institutions. In fact, Alexander Astin and Calvin Lee noted in that there are literally hundreds of small colleges scattered across the United States that can be thought of as "the invisible colleges.