The Higher Education System in the United States
The US higher education system is decentralized and mainly regulated by several third-party regional or state organizations and government bodies.
The federal government has no direct authority over the recognition of higher-education institutions, their programs and curricula or the definition of degrees and qualifications. Nearly all US higher education institutions are licensed or chartered by a state government.
Most of the higher-education institutions in the United States are accredited (Institutional Accreditation) by accrediting agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).
While state governments are responsible for licensing or chartering institutions, accreditation by recognized agencies represents the predominant way of ensuring academic and institutional quality. Accreditation also helps ensure that credits are transferable among US higher-education institutions and that US degrees are widely accepted within and outside of the United States.
The most reputable accreditation is given by one of the 7 so-called regional accrediting agencies:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) accredits postsecondary institutions in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia as well as the territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accredits institutions in the six New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accredits higher education institutions in the states of Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) accredits higher education institutions in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accredits postsecondary institutions in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
- Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) which accredits 4-year educational institutions in the states of California, Hawaii and the territories of Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau and Northern Marianas Islands.
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) accredits 2-year educational institutions in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau and Northern Marianas Islands.
uniRank only includes US higher education institutions accredited by the above first 6 regional accrediting agencies. 2-year institutions and community colleges are not included in the uniRank database at this stage.
Most of the higher-education institutions' programs are also accredited (Programmatic Accreditation) by specialized accrediting agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).
Types of higher education institutions in the United States
According to the widely adopted Carnegie Basic Classification of Institutions of Higher Education in the United States, there are 7 types of institutions:
- Associate's Colleges: Institutions at which the highest level degree awarded is an associate's degree; they are also called 2-year institutions or community colleges.
- Baccalaureate/Associate's Colleges: 4-year institutions (providing at least one baccalaureate degree program) that conferred more than 50 percent of degrees at the associate's level (i.e. associate's dominant).
- Baccalaureate Colleges: 4-year institutions where baccalaureate or higher degrees represent at least 50 percent of all degrees but where fewer than 50 master's degrees or 20 doctoral degrees were awarded during the update year.
- Master's Colleges and Universities: 4-year institutions that awarded at least 50 master's degrees and fewer than 20 doctoral degrees during the update year.
- Doctoral Universities: 4-year institutions that awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees during the update year and also institutions with below 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees that awarded at least 30 professional practice doctoral degrees in at least 2 programs.
- Special Focus Institutions: 2-year or 4-year institutions where a high concentration of degrees are in a single field or set of related fields.
- Tribal Colleges: 2-year or 4-year institutions that are members of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
Access to higher education in the United States students access higher education after a total of at least 13 years of primary and secondary school studies, from the age of 5 to the age of 18, and after obtaining the High School Diploma or a Certificate of High School Equivalency.
Languages of Instruction in the United States
University programs and courses are taught in the US national language English.
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