HEIs are either classified as a college or a university, and either public or private, and also either secular or religious. As of August 2010, records from CHED showed that the country had 1,573 private and 607 public HEIs.
In the Philippines, college is a tertiary institution that typically offer a number of specialized courses in the sciences, liberal arts, or in specific professional areas, e.g. nursing, hotel and restaurant management and information technology. Meanwhile, to be classified as a university--such as state universities and colleges (SUCs), CHED-supervised higher education institutions (CHEIs), private higher education institutions (PHEIs) and community colleges (CCs)--it must meet the following requirements:

operate at least eight different degree programs; including
at least six undergraduate courses, specifically
a four-year course in liberal arts,
a four-year course in science and mathematics,
a four-year course in the social sciences, and
a minimum of three other active and recognized professional courses leading to government licensures; and
at least two graduate-level courses leading to doctoral degrees.

Local universities have less stringent requirements than private HEIs. They are only required to operate at least five undergraduate programs--as opposed to eight for private universities--and two graduate-level programs.

Public higher education
Public universities are all non-sectarian entities, and are further classified into two types: State university and college (SUC) or Local college and university (LCU).

State universities and colleges
State universities and colleges (SUCs) refers to any public institution of higher learning that was created by an Act passed by the Congress of the Philippines. These institutions are fully subsidized by the national government, and may be considered as a corporate body. SUCs are fully funded by the national government as determined by the Philippine Congress.

The University of the Philippines, being the "national university", receives the biggest chunk of the budget among the 456 SUCs, and has likewise been strengthened by law through Republic Act 9500.

SUCs lamented the Philippine government's inadequate financial aid. For the fiscal year 2008, the Congress of the Philippines allotted PHP 20.8 billion in subsidy for the operation of the SUCs, where PHP 15.4 billion of the amount goes solely to the salaries of faculty members and employees.

Collectively, SUCs have a student population of approximately 865,000, which means that every student is subsidized by an average of PHP 24,000 per school year. Each Filipino family contributes PHP 1,185 a year to run these schools through their tax payments.

Naming conventions
During the growth and restructuring of the systems of SUCs, names such as University of the Philippines have changed their meanings over time.

In these five cases, the unqualified name has become the official name of the multi-campus system that includes the campus which is the original bearer of the name. Examples include:

University of the Philippines - Its flagship campus in Diliman, Quezon City is better called U.P. Diliman, rather than U.P. The latter refers to the University of the Philippines System.

Polytechnic University of the Philippines - Its main campus in Sta. Mesa is called A. Mabini Campus or simply Main.
University of Rizal System - Its main campus in Tanay is better called URS-Tanay Main than simply URS.

Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University - Its main campus in Bacnotan, La Union is better called DMMMSU-North La Union than simply DMMMSU.

Technological University of the Philippines - Its main campus in Ermita is called TUPM.

In other cases, the unqualified name remains the official name of an individual main campus which is now part of a larger system. Example include:

Mindanao State University - Its flagship campus in Marawi City, Lanao Del Sur is better called MSU Marawi Campus or simply Main.

SUCs are confronted by annual budget cutbacks. As a result, these schools impose enrolment quotas and increase fees. In recent years, tuition and miscellaneous fees in the SUCs have seen huge increases.

In 2007, the University of the Philippines hiked its tuition by 300 percent, from PHP 300 to PHP 1,000 per unit, while Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology implemented a 600 percent tuition hike, from PHP 15 per unit to PHP 100 per unit, resulting in a 50 percent drop in enrollment. During the same period, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines was poised to increase its rate by 525 percent, but because of massive student demonstration the administration had to shelve the plan.

SUCs are also forced to accept only a limited number of students due to budget cuts. In 2007, some 66,000 high school graduates took the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT) but only around 12,000 were admitted. The same is true in Polytechnic University of the Philippines where only 10,000 to 13,000 are admitted from more than 50,000 examinees of Polytechnic University of the Philippines College Entrance Test (PUPCET).

Enrollment rate
Only 10 percent of college students were in state-run schools in 1980, but this rose to 21 percent in 1994 and to almost 40 percent in 2008.

List of SUCs per region
The SUCs are banded together in one organization called the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC). As of 2004, PASUC's membership comprises 111 SUCs and 11 satellite associations. There are 436 state universities and colleges in the Philippines (including satellite campuses).

Local colleges and universities
Local colleges and universities (LCUs), on the other hand, are run by local government units. The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila is first and largest among the LCUs.

LCUs appeared to be having some political difficulties. On March 1, 2011, the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture of the Senate of the Philippines announced that it will push for a law regulating LCUs all over the country. The Senate hearing received evidence from CHED that only a few of the courses offered in LCU institutions have permits from the national government. Attorney Lily Milla of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) gave evidence to the hearing that out of 450 degree programs offered by the country's 93 LCUs, around 42 have permits to operate. The chairman of the committee, Senator Edgardo Angara, told the same hearing that without a law regulating LCUs, "We will add to the number of diploma mills. We already have enough mills. Many of the poor send their kids to those schools and they're being shortchanged right now".

Private tertiary institutions
Private colleges and universities may either be sectarian or non-sectarian entities. Institutions may either be not-for-profit or profit-oriented.

Most private schools are not-for-profit Catholic like Adamson University (Vincentian), the Ateneo de Manila University (Jesuit), De La Salle University (Christian Brothers), Don Bosco Technical College (Salesian), Notre Dame of Dadiangas University (Marist Brothers of the Schools), Saint Louis University (Philippines) (CICM), San Beda College (Benedictine), University of San Agustin (Augustinian), San Sebastian College - Recoletos (Augustinian Recollects), University of San Carlos, and the Divine Word College of Vigan (SVD), and the University of Santo Tomas and Colegio de San Juan de Letran (Dominican). However, there are also non-Catholic not-for-profit sectarian institutions such as Silliman University (Presbyterian), Adventist University of the Philippines (Seventh-day Adventist), Wesleyan University Philippines (Methodist), Central Philippine University (Baptist), Philippine Christian University (Methodist), Trinity University of Asia (Episcopalian), and New Era University (Iglesia ni Cristo).

Non-sectarian private schools, on the other hand, are corporations licensed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Examples of these are AMA Computer University, Centro Escolar University, Far Eastern University, and STI College, which are likewise registered on the Philippine Stock Exchange.