A lot has been written and discussed over the last ten years regarding the need to have more oversight on the productivity and costs of the US higher education. The US Federal Government is worried of its investments going into billions of dollars of aid every year in the light of the many financial scandals that have rocked a number of profitable private colleges. The regions and stats that have for many years made the biggest contributions in terms of aid to the American public and community education programs are facing the financial realities of the recession and the slow recovery being experience by the economy. The universities and colleges are now more aware of the significance of costs, student outcomes, assessments and the general quality of their academic programs.
The US Federal Government has got the right and obligation to protect its huge investment in financial assistance programs mostly channeled through the US Department of Education and must do all that is necessary to curb the rampant cases of abuse and fraud. Implementers of illegal, shady and unscrupulous practices and deals in for profit private education higher sector, as documented and revealed in numerous government agencies must be severely punished with heavy fines and where necessary, with the threat of disqualification from further participation in US Government federal financial programs of aid for repeat offenders.
Senate reports have also highlighted the malpractices by some colleges of misleading students and engaging in overselling the potential benefits of their education programs. This has particularly being the case with the issue of opportunities for employment after completing their programs. The Government must aggressively pursue such abuses. It is especially important taking into consideration the huge amounts of aid channeled to such programs and the level of personal debt a student may get himself or herself into in pursuit of these very promising programs some of which have no student welfare at heart.
The respective state departments of education are responsible and in charge of supporting and developing higher and public education opportunities in the country. No doubt, some states fired better in regulating universities and colleges in their respective regions probably due to their economic culture, history and just the willingness to invest. For example, the Massachusetts Higher Education Department is probably among the most scrupulous and thorough when it comes to the development of guidelines and the evaluation of academic integrity in those institutions operating in that state. More States would do well to follow this example particularly since now online education is traversing across state and geographical boundaries.
The states must rigorously scrutinize and re-examine their state guidelines for evaluation for universities and colleges that are operating within their state borders irrespective of how the instructions are delivered. Matters relating to gainful potential employment opportunities, period to attain degree, faculty qualifications, support services and the terms of employment are areas that need to be checked more closely by the authorities.
The US higher education has been relying very much on the evaluations done by Federal Department of Education approved independent accreditation agencies. Some Agencies like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools have taken their responsibilities and duties seriously and are ahead of the pack when it comes to directing and asking universities and colleges to assess their academic programs’ quality.
The regional and state accreditation agencies in the 1990s revamped and re-examined their evaluation standards substantially by bringing in new assessment requirements, particularly in relation to student outcomes. Other standards developed include those dealing with online and distance learning. For professionalism to be maintained in the US universities and colleges accreditation system, the current accrediting agencies must be more proactive and play their expected roles.
Nobody welcomes regulation and oversight but, taking into consideration the significance of higher education in the US and in society this becomes indeed very necessary to be taken care of. This is not a task for any single agency. Federal, local and state agencies may provide the guidance and leadership but they must be wary of political influences and lobby groups with hidden agendas.
Universities and colleges themselves, especially through peer own accreditation and internal review mechanisms must continually be evaluating their programs’ quality and find their own balance. It is by working together that the US higher education model will continue to rank high globally and be a model for the world to emulate.
College admissions in the US
After finishing high school, planning for and searching for college can be a very exciting time in the life of a young person. But because there is much that happens before one finally moves into that new dorm, it can also be very stressful. Irrespective of if one is a student or a parent, the whole process of selecting, applying and final admission can at times look mysterious to some people, and hence require adequate preparation and good screening to get the best in the market.
The initial processes
The university or college selection process and actual application for admission will most likely start around that time when one takes the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSATs) and by the April of one’s high school senior year when one gets notified of admission status, rejection or acceptance at that college they choose to go to.
Note that every school, university and college, (and remember there are many, many colleges, schools and universities in the US, not counting those abroad) has its distinct processes and standards. So, it all depends upon where you apply and your specific experience may differ from the rigorous ones used by some nationally ranked institutions like Duke or Harvard.
College admission matter crops up in majority of students when they undertake the PSAT normally between the 10th and11th grades of their schooling. Even for those who aren’t yet thinking too much about it after the sitting PSAT, they may indeed start getting mail information from universities and colleges.
Many parents and students wonder how the colleges and universities found them. It is simple; most of them simply purchased mailing lists from your College Board which you agreed to when you checked a certain box agreeing to a ’student research’ program when sitting for the PSAT or from SAT, NRCCUA and other defined mailing lists. They use these lists as recruitment tools to get prospective students, and this serves as a good marketing tool.
Several other channels are open on how one can get on that college mailing list. These include when you write to them yourself, call them, when you visit the college and meet the admissions staff or even when you attend university or college fairs. It is advisable to try and get yourself on the mailing lists of those schools and colleges in which you have an interest. This way, you will be able to acquaint yourself with the kind of school or college it is by reading their materials mailed to you regularly. You will be able to know what kind of offers may be available to you.
What finally influences choice of college?
Many a time the decision is made on some very flimsy grounds like a coin toss, because my girlfriend or boyfriend is going there or the gut feeling. Most of the time however, decisions are ultimately influenced by:
- Parents, who usually have very significant influence
- Choices by friends
- Personal perceptions on issues like college sports especially basketball team prowess
- National rankings and personal rankings
- Campus visits
Factors to consider in selecting the right College in the US
It has been said by education experts that a very critical criterion for deciding on a college should be based on the question: How challenged and comfortable will I be when there?
It is also good to think about the college environment:
- Academic environment – Are the programs and majors being offered there what I really desire? Is the academic atmosphere rigorous? What is expected of me from the faculty? Is the mood academic or just a party mood?
- Physical environment - Is it a big or small college, new or old? What do I prefer, since this is the place I will be spending some four of my years?
- Social-cultural environment – Is it a rural or a city set up? Liberal or conservative? Religious? How comfortable will be while there? Does it embrace diversity or is it too rigid?
Another determining consideration should be what are my chances of being admitted here? Go through the college or university website and know what kind of candidates they are looking for. Are you fitting the bill? Pay them a visit especially if you have two or more open options before you.
Naturally, the cost will play an important part I the decision but this should not be the decider as finances and scholarships can be arranged when already admitted.
The US education system and indeed the world over, there are very many types of colleges which offer different programs. These colleges tend to differ in various aspects tough all are academic institutions. For example, one may ask if a university is the same as college or why some are labeled public and others private. Here we look at the basics on the different types of colleges in the US.
Private and public and colleges
Private colleges basically rely on tuition fees and other private sources for their funding and running. Their tuition rates are slightly higher than public colleges. Private donations from many sources do provide generous financial assistance packages for most students who are unable to afford.
Public US colleges are 100 per cent funded by state and local governments. They usually offer tuition rates which are lower than private colleges, particularly for those students who are residing in the state. These are preferred by those who do not wish to spend too much to acquire college education. They are also preferred by international students.
For profit colleges are businesses which offer a number of degree and certificate programs typically to prepare the students for specific careers. They have higher costs and credits earned from them may not be transfer to other regular colleges.
Two year and four-year colleges
2 year colleges do offer programs which last up to 2 years leading to the award of a certificate or an associate degree. They include vocational-technical colleges, community colleges and career colleges. 4 year colleges do offer 4 year programs which lead to the award of a bachelor’s degree. They include colleges of liberal arts and universities.
Colleges of liberal arts
These kinds of colleges do offer a very broad spectrum of courses in the area of liberal arts. This includes academic areas such as history, literature, languages, mathematics and the life sciences. Most of the liberal marts colleges are private and they do offer 4 year programs that will lead to a bachelor’s degree. These types of colleges will prepare one for a number of careers and or for further graduate study.
Universities are often larger and they offer more degree and majors options. These include bachelor’s degrees, master’s level degrees and doctoral degrees. It is important to note that most universities have several colleges of smaller sizes, such as a liberal arts colleges, healthy sciences and engineering. These types of colleges do prepare one for graduate study or for a number of careers.
The community colleges offer 2 year associate degree program that prepares one to transfer to a 4 year college to attain a bachelor’s degree. They also do offer other kinds of associate degrees and different certificates that primarily focus on preparing one for a specific career. They are normally affordable charging lower tuition fees.
Career and vocational-technical colleges
These particular kinds of institutions do offer more specialized kind of training in a particular career or industry. Programs of possible study include the culinary arts, dental hygiene, firefighting and medical-records technology. These modes of colleges usually do offer associate degrees or certificates.
Special focus colleges
Some specific colleges do focus on student populations and or specific interests. They include:
- Colleges of Arts
- Same-sex colleges
- Religiously affiliated
- Specialized mission facilities
Conservatories and art colleges focus specifically on the arts. Besides the regular course work, they provide training in unique areas like music, photography, fashion design and theater. Majority of these kinds of colleges do offer bachelor’s degrees or associate degree in fine arts or any specialized field.
4 year public colleges and in fact most private colleges are coed. However, there are some colleges of private nature that are set up specifically for women or for men.
A number of private colleges are of a religious nature or are connected to a religious faith. Though the connection in reality may be historic only, in some it does affect the student’s day to day life.
Historically black universities and colleges (HBCUs) focus on uplifting and educating students of African American origins. We also have the Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) which are colleges and universities where at least 25% of all the full-time undergraduate enrolled students are of Hispanic origins. Both HSIs and HBCUs may offer other programs, activities and services targeted to the members of the underrepresented student’s population they serve.