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Types of Higher Education Institutions

In the U.S., the word “college” is generally used to describe an institution of higher education. However, there are different types of institutions where a student can pursue an academic degree. For instance, there are community colleges, institutes of technology, art and design schools, colleges, and universities.

Types of higher education institutions:

Previously known as junior colleges, community colleges have an open enrollment policy and admit all students who have graduated with a high school diploma, GED or equivalent degree. Community colleges focus on undergraduate degrees like associate degrees and certificate programs, but they may also offer bachelor’s degrees. Community colleges provide a pathway for students to transition from high school to college.

Community Colleges in Nevada:

Institutes of Technology or Polytechnic Institutes concentrate on areas of study related to engineering, technology, applied science, and natural sciences. These institutions are best described as learning centers where students can learn a specific skill or industry.

Students may study art or design at a college or university, or they might select a school that specializes in these areas. Art and Designs Schools are usually private institutions and offer both degree and certificate programs. Programs range from marketing to fashion design to digital media.

A college offers a myriad of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in various disciplines which is why they are commonly referred to as a Liberal Arts College. Colleges are also known to promote smaller learning environments.

Colleges in Nevada:

A university is made of up several colleges making for a larger learning environment. Each college on campus focuses on a specific discipline; as a result, universities offer numerous undergraduate and graduate degree programs.  

Universities in Nevada:

Other factors that distinguish higher education institutions:

Higher education institutions can either be public or private. Public institutions are funded and administered by state and local government. These institutions are usually more affordable than private institutions. In addition, they offer in-state tuition for students that are residents while out-of-state students pay a higher rate.

Private institutions offer the same tuition rate to students regardless of their residency. These rates are typically higher than public institutions because private institutions depend on tuition, fees, and donations to sustain their programs. These sources of funding create greater scholarship opportunities for students to attend private institutions.

Academic institutions may distinguish themselves based on the time it generally takes to complete the credit hours required for a degree. For instance, associate degrees usually take about two years (60 credit hours) while certificate programs take much less. For this reason, community colleges may be referred to as two-year institutions.

Colleges and universities are known as four-year institutions for their emphasis on bachelor’s degrees (120 credit hours). Yet they also offer graduate degrees like master’s degrees and doctoral programs that go beyond a four-year education.

It is important to note that the time frame for earning a degree is based on a full-time (12 or 15 credits per semester), consecutive plan of study for a particular degree program. Degree programs vary in credit hours and may change depending on how the program evolves. Ultimately, students will complete a degree program at their own pace.

Higher education institutions will behave differently according to their non-profit or for-profit status. Public institutions are always non-profit as government entities. Private institutions may run on a non-profit or for-profit model.

Like a business, for-profit institutions are driven by revenue as held accountable by their investors. As a result, for-profit institutions are more likely to market their programs and open their admission requirements to accept students.

Example of private, non-profit university in Nevada: Touro University Nevada

Example of private, for-profit university in Nevada: DeVry University

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