The historical background of higher education in the USA

1. Higher education in the US began when in 1636, a short time after the first colonist came to the territory now called Massachusetts, and they founded Harvard College, later to become the famous Harvard University. It is the oldest university in the country, named in honour of John Harvard who left it his library and half his property. The College of William and Mary founded in 1693 was the second institution of higher learning established in the colonies. These colonial colleges, which later became universities, were founded to train men for service in the church and civil state. Special emphasis was laid on classical education and only those who knew Latin and Greek were considered educated. By 1776 four more institutions had been opened: Yale University founded in Connecticut in 1701, Princeton University (1746), Washington and Lee University (1749), University of Pennsylvania (1740).

2. In practically every respect American colleges in those days tried to duplicate the colleges of ancient universities of England. They were residential colleges in the English fashion, but unlike old English universities, they were not self-governing bodies.

3. The American Revolution brought a lot of changes. The independence of the states followed by the creation of the federal government raised new questions about what American higher educational should be. The first state universities were founded, though their flowering did not come until after the Civil War, a century later. Rapid development of industry, agriculture and transportation brought about great changes. The technological needs of agriculture and business stimulated the improvement of the early nineteen century universities. Apart from these, agricultural and engineering colleges came into existence to meet the practical needs of industry and agriculture.

4. The mid-nineteenth century (1861) saw the foundation of private school known as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

5. Gradually universities, private or public, became the dominant and most influential structure of higher education, a position they still hold. Many of the oldest and best known liberal arts colleges, such as Yale, Columbia and Harvard, became universities during this period. Several of the public institutions, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and California also received the status of universities. Many private institutions, which came into existence at about this time, exercised great influence on American education.

6. Eventually a peculiarly American structure unlike any other existing university system was produced. In the 1870s graduate school was introduced in the American university. It was placed structurally on the top of what came to be known as undergraduate school devoted to general education. Gradually professional schools were incorporated into the university, some paralleling the graduate schools (e.g. Law School, Medical School, etc.), others paralleling the liberal arts colleges (Engineering, Forestry, Music Schools, etc.). Along with this, the practice of majoring in a specific subject became common.

7. Between 1825 and 1875 the idea of college education for women developed in the country. At first it was provided in separate colleges for women (such as Wells, Vassar, etc.) but the general trend was toward coeducation.

8. The only distinct structural feature to emerge during the twentieth century has been the two-year junior (or community) college. Initially its major purpose was to provide a parallel to the first two years of liberal arts instruction given in the four-year colleges. Such a programme is still usually included in the curriculum but throughout the first half of the 20th century, the junior colleges have been expanding their scope.

9. The educational progress of the late 19th century stemmed from the development of science and professionalism, the development of advanced studies, and the recognition in the education system of the innumerable fronts upon which knowledge was growing.


1. a liberal arts college – гуманитарный колледж

2. a junior college – младший колледж с двухлетним сроком обучения (с присвоением младшей, первоначальной ученой степени Associate of Arts or Science)

3. a community college – местный колледж, в котором учатся студенты, живущие дома, и где учеба дешевле, так как часть расходов берут на себя местные органы власти; учащиеся обычно совмещают работу с учебой.

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