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Colleges and Universities

The Legal Climate, Racial Discrimination, Gender Discrimination, Academic Freedom: The Right To Speak Freely

The term college is a general one that encompasses a wide range of higher-education institutions, including those that offer two- to four-year programs in the arts and sciences, technical and vocational schools, and junior and community colleges. The term university specifically describes an institution that provides graduate and professional education in addition to four-year post-secondary education. Despite these distinctions, the terms college and university are frequently used interchangeably in the United States.

The first institution of higher education in the United States was Harvard College, founded in 1636. At the time of the Revolutionary War, nine colleges existed in the colonies—a number that had tripled by the time of the Civil War. In 1876, the first true university in the United States was established, with the founding of Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore. The university format rapidly gained popularity, and prominent private and state-run colleges soon assumed university status. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 4,084 colleges and universities operated in the United States in 1999.

U.S. colleges and universities fall into two general categories: private and public. Private institutions are usually corporations operating under state charters. Although tuition and private gifts and endowments provide much of their financial support, most private colleges and universities also receive some degree of government support. Many of the 2,000-plus private colleges and universities in the United States claim a religious affiliation.

Public institutions are established either by state constitution or by statute, and they receive funding from state appropriations as well as tuition and endowments. Although the federal government operates several institutions of higher learning, such as the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy, it is prohibited by statute from exercising direct control over other educational institutions.

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