Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions

Living Edition
| Editors: Pedro Teixeira (Editor-in-Chief), Jung Cheol Shin (Editor-in-Chief)

Higher Education Systems and Institutions: United States of America

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_381-1

This entry begins with an overview of the organization of the public and private sectors of higher education in the United States. From there, it considers the dynamics of the system in terms of governance and basic financing patterns both system-wide and within individual institutions and an overview of the major internal constituencies, including faculty, students, and administrators. We conclude with a look at new developments, including the evolving focus from access to degree completion, concerns regarding college affordability, heightened accountability pressures, and growing competition among colleges to enroll students.

Basic System Organization

The higher education system in the United States is primarily composed of some 4600 corporately autonomous degree-granting and 2500 certificate-granting public and private institutions that receive some financial support from the federal government (Snyder et al. 2016). The American system is federal in nature (Duryea and Williams 2000;...


High Education System National Labor Relation Board American High Education Student Loan Debt High Education Administration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Altbach, P.G., and D. Engberg, eds. 2000. Higher education: A worldwide inventory of centers and programmes. Chestnut Hill: Boston College, Center for International Higher Education.Google Scholar
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2017. R&D at colleges and universities. https://www.aaas.org/page/rd-colleges-and-universities. Accessed 20 Jan 2017.
  3. American Association of University Professors. 1940. 1940 statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  4. Ashenfelter, O., and D. Card. 2001. Did the elimination of mandatory retirement affect faculty retirement? American Economic Review 92 (4): 957–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berry, J., and M. Savarese. 2012. Directory of U.S. faculty contracts and bargaining agents in institutions of higher education. New York: National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.Google Scholar
  6. Bichsel, J. 2016. Overview: 2015–16 faculty in higher education salary survey report. Knoxville: CUPA-HR.Google Scholar
  7. Birnbaum, R., and P.D. Umbach. 2001. Scholar, steward, spanner, stranger: The four career paths of college presidents. The Review of Higher Education 24 (3): 203–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blumenstyk, G. 2015. White House unveils College Scorecard that replaces its scuttled ratings plan. The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 13. http://www.chronicle.com/article/White-House-Unveils-College/233073. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
  9. Brown, R. 2017. Closures 2009 to present. College History Garden. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/139JpCuOS5opawTg_BpP5UOKG3j9dMFhMFNwwPMnlizM/edit#gid=607798648. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
  10. Cain, C., C. Cipicchio, J. McGowan, F. Orenschall, and S. Fitzpatrick. 2010. New demographic realities: The Northeast-Midwest region. Washington, DC: Northeast-Midwest Institute.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, B. R. (1983). The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-National Perspective. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cochrane, D.F., and D. Cheng. 2016. Student debt and the class of 2015. Oakland: The Institute for College Access and Success.Google Scholar
  13. Conway, M.M. 1979. The commissioner’s authority to list accrediting agencies and associations: Necessity for an eligibility issue. The Journal of Higher Education 50 (2): 158–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cook, S.G. 2012. Women presidents: Now 26.4% but still underrepresented. Women in Higher Education 21: 1–3. doi:10.1002/whe.10322.Google Scholar
  15. Council for Higher Education Accreditation. 2015. The condition of accreditation: U.S. accreditation in 2013. Washington, DC: CHEA Institute for Research and Study of Accreditation and Quality Assurance.Google Scholar
  16. Council for Higher Education Accreditation. 2016. 2016–2017 directory of CHEA-recognized organizations. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  17. Cowley, W.H. (1980). Presidents, Professors, and Trustees. Edited Donald T. Williams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  18. Cummings, W.K. & Finkelstein, M. J. (2011). Scholars in the Changing American Academy: New Roles and New Rules. Dordrecht, NL: Springer.Google Scholar
  19. Delisle, J. 2014. The graduate student debt review. Washington, DC: New America.Google Scholar
  20. Desrochers, D. M., and Kirshstein, R. 2014. Labor intensive or labor expensive? Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education. Issue Brief. Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED558470.pdf
  21. Duryea, E.D. & Williams, D. (2000). The Academic Corporation: A History of College and University Governing Board. New York: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ehrenberg, R.G. 2012. American higher education in transition. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 26 (1): 193–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. 2016. Quarterly report on household debt and credit. New York: Author.Google Scholar
  24. Finkelstein, Martin J., Valerie Conley Martin, and Jack H. Schuster. 2016. The faculty factor: Reassessing the American Academy in a turbulent era. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Flaherty, C. 2013. Adjunct connections. Inside Higher Ed, November 18. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/11/18/union-conference-marks-growth-adjunct-organizing-strategy. Accessed 20 Jan 2017.
  26. Gumport, P. J. (2000). Academic restructuring: Organizational change and institutional imperatives. Higher education, 39(1), 67–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gose, B. 2008. Gates fund creates plan for college completion. The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 21. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Gates-Fund-Creates-Plan-for/25063. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
  28. Green, D.A., and D. Little. 2013. Academic development on the margins. Studies in Higher Education 38 (4): 523–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hebel, S. 2009. Lumina’s leader sets lofty goals for fund’s role in policy debates. The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 1. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Luminas-Leader-Sets-Lofty/28674. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
  30. Hebel, S., and Selingo, J. 2009. Obama’s higher-education goal is ambitious but achievable, leaders say. The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 26. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Obamas-Higher-Education-Goal/117386. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
  31. Hillman, N.W. 2016. Why performance funding doesn’t work. New York: The Century Foundation.Google Scholar
  32. Hoover, E., and Lipka, S. 2016. Enrollment goals remain elusive for small colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 11. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Enrollment-Goals-Remain/238624. Accessed 26 Jan 2017.
  33. Jaschik, S. 2015. Big union win. Inside Higher Ed, January 2. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/02/nlrb-ruling-shifts-legal-ground-faculty-unions-private-colleges. Accessed 20 Jan 2017.
  34. Johnstone, D. B. (2003). “The International Comparative Study of Higher Education: Lesson from the Contemplation of How Others Might See Us.” Forum for the Future of Higher Education. Washington, DC: EDUCAUSE.Google Scholar
  35. Jones, G.A. 2013. The horizontal and vertical fragmentation of academic work and the challenge for academic governance and leadership. Asia Pacific Education Review 14 (1): 75–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kelchen, R. 2017. How much do for-profit colleges rely on federal funds? Brookings Institution Brown Center Chalkboard. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2017/01/11/how-much-do-for-profit-colleges-rely-on-federal-funds/. Accessed 20 Jan 2017.
  37. Kelchen, R. 2018. Higher education accountability. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  38. King, J.E., and G.G. Gomez. 2008. On the pathway to the presidency: Characteristics of higher education’s senior leadership. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.Google Scholar
  39. Ma, J., S. Baum, M. Pender, and M. Welch. 2016a. Trends in college pricing. Washington, DC: The College Board.Google Scholar
  40. Ma, J., M. Pender, and J. Welch. 2016b. Education pays 2016. Washington, DC: The College Board.Google Scholar
  41. Macfarlane, B. 2011. The morphing of academic practice: Unbundling and the rise of the para-academic. Higher Education Quarterly 65 (1): 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mori, R. 2009. Accreditation systems in Japan and the United States: A comparative perspective on governmental involvement. New Directions for Higher Education 145: 69–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. National Association of College and University Business Officers. 2016. 2015 NACUBO tuition discounting study. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  44. National Conference of State Legislatures. 2015. Performance-based funding for higher education. http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/performance-funding.aspx. Accessed 23 Jan 2017.
  45. OECD. 2016. Population with tertiary education. https://data.oecd.org/eduatt/population-with-tertiary-education.htm. Accessed 27 Jan 2017.
  46. Pace, C.R., and M. Connolly. 2000. Where are the liberal arts? Research in Higher Education 41 (1): 53–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rumbley, L.E., P.G. Altbach, D.A. Stanfield, Y. Shimmi, A. Gayardon, and R.Y. Chan, eds. 2014. Higher education: A worldwide inventory of research centers, academic programs, and journals and publications. 3rd ed. Bonn: Lemmens Media.Google Scholar
  48. Schackner, B. 2017. Chancellor: State system, amid enrollment, financial strain, to eye all options – even mergers or closures. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 26. http://www.postgazette.com/news/education/2017/01/26/State-System-options-merger-closure-in-review-of-Pennsylvania-state-owned-universities/stories/201701260147. Accessed 27 Jan 2017.
  49. Schuster, J. H., & Finkelstein, M. J. (2006). The restructuring of academic work and careers: The American faculty. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Schwartz, M.P. 2010a. Policies, practices, and composition of governing boards of public colleges, universities, and systems. Washington, DC: Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.Google Scholar
  51. Schwartz, M.P. 2010b. Policies, practices, and composition of governing boards of independent colleges and universities. Washington, DC: Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.Google Scholar
  52. Shah, M., S. Nir, and M. Wilson. 2011. Quality assurance in Australian higher education: Historical and future development. Asia Pacific Education Review 12: 475–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Snyder, T.D., C. de Brey, and S.A. Dillow. 2016. Digest of education statistics 2015. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  54. State Higher Education Executive Officers. 2016. State higher education finance FY 2015. Boulder: Author.Google Scholar
  55. Thomason, A. 2016. Education Dept. revokes recognition of embattled accreditor of for-profit colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 22. http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/education-dept-revokes-recognition-of-embattled-accreditor-of-for-profit-colleges/114592. Accessed 19 Jan 2017.
  56. United States Government Accountability Office. 2014. Higher education: Education should strengthen oversight of schools and accreditors. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  57. Whitchurch, C. 2004. Administrative managers – A critical link. Higher Education Quarterly 58 (4): 280–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education Leadership, Management and PolicySeton Hall UniversitySouth OrangeUSA