Higher Education in the USA

: 1/4

Finishing school is the beginning of an independent life for millions of school graduates. Many roads are open before them. But it is not an easy thing to choose a profession out of more than the 2000 existing in the world.

Out of the more than three million students who graduate from high school each year, about one million go on for higher education. Simply by being admitted into one of the most respected universities in the United States, a high school graduate achieves a degree of success. A college at a leading university might receive applications from two percent of these high school graduates, and then accept only one out of every ten who apply. Successful applicants at such colleges are usually chosen on the basis of :

high school records;

recommendations from high school teachers;

the impression they make during interviews at the university;

their scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT);

The system of higher education in the United States is complex. It comprises four categories of institution:

The university, which may contain:

several colleges for undergraduate students seeking a bachelors four-year degree;

one or more graduate schools for those continuing in specialized studies beyond the bachelors degree to obtain a masters or a doctoral degree;

The four-year undergraduate institution the college most of which are not part of a university;

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;

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. There is no clear or inevitable distinction in terms of quality of education offered between the institutions, which are publicly or privately funded. However, this is not to say that all institutions enjoy equal prestige, nor that there are no material differences among them.

Many universities and colleges, both public and private, have gained reputations for offering particularly challenging courses, and for providing their students with a higher quality of education. The great majority are generally regarded as quite satisfactory. A few other institutions, conversely, provide only adequate education, and students attend classes, pass examinations and graduate as merely competent, but not outstanding, scholars and professionals. 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. All of these factors reinforce one another. 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 prompts a million secondary school students to take the SATs every year. But recently emphasis on admissions examinations has been widely criticized in the United States because the examinations tend to measure competence in mathematics and English. In defense of using the examinations as criteria for admissions, administrators at many universities say that SATs provide a fair way for deciding whom to admit when they have 10 or 12 applicants for every first-year student seat.

Can Americas colleges and universities rest on their accomplishments? About 12 million students currently attend schools of higher education in America. They are students in a society that believe in the bond between education and democracy.

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. In the middle of 1980s, the Association of American Colleges (AAC) issued a report that called for teaching a body of common knowledge to all college students. The National Institute of Education (NIE) issued a somewhat similar report, Involvement in Learning. In its report, the NIE concluded that the college curriculum has become excessively vocational and work-related. The report also warned that college education may no longer be developing in students the shared values and knowledge that traditionally bind Americans together. A serious charge: Is it true?

: 10/03/2006