Higher Education in the U.S.A.
Higher Education in the U.S.A.

Higher Education in the U.S.

Over a century the United States of America successfully promote U.S. higher education as the most prestigious, and the U.S. higher education system as the best in the world.  [Note, that higher education institution rating systems, such as that of US News & World Report, were originally introduced in the U.S. to promote the country’s education system.]  Indeed, such a claim seems to be supported by obvious leadership of the U.S. in many fields of science and technology. However, one has to keep in mind that about 60% of scientists and professors in the U.S. are foreigners that received their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees elsewhere. More information can be found on our pages "U.S. Universities and Colleges" and "Tests TOEFL and SAT".
In fact, higher education in the U.S. has not developed into a unified system. It is highly non-uniform decentralized to the level of states, universities and colleges each of which has its own collection of “Bylaws” and other codes that govern quantity, quality and content of its educational and degree programs. Almost all aspects of educational policies are realized at the university/college level, although some federal educational programs financed and controlled by the U.S. Department of Education (DE) do exist. About 60 bodies (associations, State Boards, councils, various societies, etc.) of various degree of competence are empowered to accredit higher education programs at the U.S. universities and colleges.
Colleges and universities (the latter are called colleges, as well) in the U.S. are institutions providing higher education services paid for by private organizations, state governments and students. Tuition and other fees are proportional to a rating of a college in the major college rating lists. Such ratings use a number of criteria to grade performance of each college. Notably, only about 50% of such criteria have any relation to quality of education itself. Ruther, those criteria are designed to evaluate college social environment, available facilities, ability of graduates to find jobs in industry or business after graduation, and so on. There exists a great diversity in the quality of higher education in the U.S. One can find prestigious Ivy League universities offering many strong educational programs next to universities and colleges of uncertain education standards and bearing loud names (like International Academy of this and that, or American University), not accredited by any respected association, and educating only a handful of students. Correspondingly, quantity and quality of graduate programs, degree qualification standards, facilities, educational infrastructure and availability of financial support for domestic and foreign students vary dramatically from college to college and from an educational program to an educational program.
Higher education in the U.S. uses the Anglo-Saxon three-level model. The first level is called undergraduate education level. It lasts for 4 years and results in a bachelor degree (Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts) granted to those students who successfully completed their undergraduate programs (various associate degrees do not signify a completed undergraduate program). The undergraduate degree level is the weakest among higher education levels in the U.S. In particular, it is closer in quality to professional/technician licensing in Russia, Europe, China or Japan, than to bachelor’s degree programs offered by universities in those countries.  Because of this known weakness of undergraduate education in the U.S., PermaNature/SciTechLab recommends foreign students to earn their undergraduate degrees in the countries and regions mentioned above.

The first two years of undergraduate educational programs in the U.S. introduce students to a number of disciplines. Students are helped familiarize themselves with various fields of knowledge and their intertwined nature. Foreign students who joined U.S. undergraduate programs at this level (also called the lower division level) often observe that they already studied the offered material in middle and high school in their native countries. Thus, the only useful outcome of the first 2 years of undergraduate programs in the U.S. for foreign students is getting hands-on experience of American way of life. The last 2 years of undergraduate programs in the U.S. (called the upper division level) include more specialized courses, and thus can be of some interest for foreign students.

The U.S. education programs use credit hours (credits) and modules. Thus, an education program is split into disciplines each of which is assigned a certain number of credits (one credit hour approximately corresponds to 38 academic hours in Russia, China, India or Europe). To earn a bachelor degree, one has to earn 120 credits. Credits are assigned not only for passing tests and exams after studying a selection of required and chosen courses, but also for visiting lectures, laboratory works, active participation in seminars and tutorials, writing course papers and projects, etc. [In contrast to undergraduate programs in Europe, Russia, China and India, there are no other practical studies offered by U.S. undergraduate programs, apart from tutorials and labs.] In addition to the total credit score, there exist a minimum number of points (Graduate Point Average, or GPA) a student has to earn to progress to the next stage of a U.S. undergraduate program, and to earn an undergraduate degree. The more prestigious is a university, the higher is GPA.
The second level of higher education in the U.S. lasts for 3 to 4 years and results in Master’s degree (Master of Arts, Master of Sciences, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Business Administration). In contrast to undergraduate programs in sciences and engineering that are too weak to attract foreign students, the corresponding U.S. graduate programs (Master’s and PhD programs) attract a fair number (about 55%) of foreign students. The major reason is that a Master’s degree in sciences or engineering earned from a U.S. university or college enables foreign graduates to successfully apply for jobs in industry in the U.S. and abroad. In particular, U.S. businesses and international corporations of U.S. origin give preferences to job applicants with Master’s degrees earned from U.S. universities and colleges. This tendency is also thoroughly encouraged by the U.S. Government.  
The third (and the last) level of higher education in the U.S. (the topmost graduate education programs) lasts 3 to 4 years and results in a graduate doctoral degree (Doctor of Philosophy - PhD, Doctor of Arts, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Theology, Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Osteopathy, Doctor of Psyghology and Juris Doctor). The graduate doctoral programs in sciences and engineering are a much weaker version of similar doctorates in Russia, Western Europe and China. Over 65% of foreign students populate U.S. graduate doctoral programs. Foreign students also are recipients of the majority of stipends and grants awarded to graduate students in the U.S. Finally, some graduate students chose graduate programs in education earning a degree of Specialist in Education. This degree is something intermediate between Master of Art and Doctor of Education, and requires 2 years of studies.

More information can be found on our pages "U.S. Universities and Colleges" and "Tests TOEFL and SAT".