U.S. Higher Education
The higher education system in the United States is very different from the systems found in many other countries and cultures. One of the most unique characteristics of higher education in the United States is its decentralized structure. Unlike many other countries, there is no national system of higher education in the U.S. The system is decentralized in that college and universities are locally governed or organized and governed within individual state systems.
Northwood University is a private institution incorporated in the State of Michigan with campuses in Florida and Texas, and is governed by its own Board of Trustees, not the state government or the federal government of the United States. However, local, state and federal governments do impose certain laws, restrictions and regulations on colleges and universities.
An Overview of Higher Education in the United States
Not long after European settlers began to arrive in what would become the United States, the first institutions of higher education were founded. These were collectively known as the colonial colleges. The first colonial college was Harvard College, founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard College is now known as Harvard University and is one of the most famous colleges in the world. Other colonial colleges include the College of William and Mary, Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University, Rutgers University, and Dartmouth College.
Early colonial institutions like Harvard were founded to provide education to those going into the ministry, but after the American Revolution, colleges began to broaden their focus to include education for the ministry, medicine and law. In the nineteenth century, the mission of higher education changed radically to include "practical subjects" like agriculture and engineering with the emergence of land-grant colleges following the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862. Land-grant colleges and universities were so named because the federal government, under the Morrill Act, granted land to each state to be sold so that the proceeds could be invested to found a public college. All fifty states in the U.S., the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have land-grant institutions. 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 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States. 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.
Many of the larger public and private institutions provide for both teaching and research, and some of the largest institutions enroll 40,000 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. Northwood University is such a private institution governed by a Board of Trustees.
Colleges and universities in the United States offer several types of degrees. A community college usually offers a two-year degree known as an associate's degree. A college or university usually offers four year degrees known as a bachelor's degree, and some colleges and universities offer advanced degrees such as master's (MBA) and/or doctoral degrees (Ph.D's or Ed.D's). Some colleges and universities offer professional or specialized degrees such as medical or law degrees. Northwood University offers the bachelor's (BBA) degree and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) 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 college or university has its own unique administrative structure. At Northwood University, the President and Chief Executive Officer oversee the three campuses and the Adult Degree Program. The President is assisted by the Executive Vice President/Chief Academic and Operating Officer, and the Vice Presidents of Advancement, Finance, Graduate and Specialty Programs, Marketing and Enrollment Management. Each campus is headed by a Provost, and they are assisted by a Dean of Students and an Academic Dean. The Adult Degree Program and the International Program are headed by Deans. Faculty are located within academic departments. Other administrative and support staff are located within departments like Admissions, Business Office, or Human Resources.
More information about the American system of higher education, including a glossary of common terms, and a basic overview of Northwood's grading system, can be found in the Northwood University International Student Handbook