How higher education system works in the United States

Higher education in the U.S. is also called post secondary education. Its a diverse and autonomous community of publicly and privately supported institutions. Post-secondary education includes non-degree programs that lead to certificates and diplomas plus six degree levels: associate, bachelor, first professional, master, advanced intermediate, and research doctorate. The U.S. system does not offer a second or higher doctorate, but does offer post-doctorate research programs. Adult and continuing education, plus special education, cut across all educational levels.

Institutions are classified in the following categories:
  1. Research Universities: Comprehensive doctorate-granting institutions that operate extensive theoretical and applied research program in a wide variety of disciplines;

  2. Doctorate-Granting Universities: Institutions offering comprehensive studies in a wide variety of disciplines but which do not award the Doctorate in as many fields as do research universities;

  3. Master’s (Comprehensive) Universities and Colleges: Institutions offering academic and professional programs at the Bachelor's and Master's degree levels, and first-professional degrees, but which do not award the research Doctorate;

  4. Baccalaureate (Liberal Arts) Colleges: Institutions offering academic and professional program at the Bachelor's degree level, but not higher degrees;

  5. Associate  Of Arts Colleges: Institutions offering academic and professional or occupational studies at the Associate Degree level, including public community colleges and public and private junior colleges;

  6. Professional Schools and Other Specialized Institutions: Institutions that offer instruction in only one or a few related subjects, either professional or academic, and thus are not comprehensive enough to fit into other classifications. The degree level ranges from the associate degree through the research Doctorate (e.g., Independent schools of medicine, engineering, dentistry, and law; schools for the visual and performing arts; theological seminaries, etc.)
  7. First-professional degree
    A first-professional degree is one that signifies both completion of the academic requirements for beginning practice in a given profession and a level of professional skill beyond that required for a bachelor's degree. A first-professional degree is based on a program requiring at least 2 academic years of work beyond the bachelor's degree. Degree fields include dentistry, medicine, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, podiatric medicine, veterinary medicine, chiropractic, law, and theological professions.

  8. Post -Secondary Vocational and Technical Schools: Institutions offering short, non-degree training programs of less than two years duration, leading to Certificates or Diplomas in occupational specialties.
The higher education system is characterized by accessibility, diversity, and autonomy and is known for both its size and quality. The federal government has no jurisdiction or authority over the recognition of educational institutions, members of the academic professions, programs or curricula, or degrees or other qualifications. Nearly all U.S. post-secondary institutions are licensed, or chartered, by a state or municipal government to operate under the ownership of either a government (if public) or a private corporation (if independent), and may be for-profit or not-for-profit enterprises. Religious institutions are considered independent, or private.

Quality assurance and accreditation

Quality assurance is achieved via state requirements, voluntary accreditation, and the reputation of institutions and among their academic peers and employers of graduates. Accreditation is a self-regulating process of quality control engaged in by the U.S. post-secondary education community to ensure minimum standards of academic capability, administrative competence, and to promote mutual recognition of qualifications within the system.

Six regional accreditation associations set minimum standards for institutions chartered in the states of their respective jurisdictions. In addition, other recognized accrediting associations set and regulate minimum standards for individual subjects or related subjects, particularly in professional fields, and for specialized institutions.

Evaluation and Assessment

Post-secondary or tertiary curricula are determined by the individual institutions with reference to accreditation requirements, professional requirements, and the expectations of graduate programs and employers.

For latest facts and figures about US Higher Education refer to Data & Statistics - US Department of Education:
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