History of Higher Education in the United States

Religious denominations established most early colleges in order to train ministers. In New England there was an emphasis on literacy so that people could read the Bible. Harvard College was founded by the colonial legislature in 1636, and named after an early benefactor. Most of the funding came from the colony, but the college early began to collect endowment. Harvard at first focused on training young men for the ministry, and won general support from the Puritan colonies. The College of William & Mary was founded by Virginia government in 1693, with 20,000 acres (81 km2) of land for an endowment, and a penny tax on every pound of tobacco, together with an annual appropriation. James Blair, the leading Anglican minister in the colony, was president for 50 years, and the college won the broad support of the Virginia gentry, most of whom were Anglicans, and trained many of the lawyers, politicians, and leading planters. Students headed for the ministry were given free or in tuition. Yale College was founded in 1701, and in 1716 was relocated to New Haven, Connecticut. The conservative Puritan ministers of Connecticut had grown dissatisfied with the more liberal theology of Harvard, and wanted their own school to train orthodox ministers. New Side Presbyterians in 1747 set up the College of New Jersey, in the town of Princeton; much later it was renamed Princeton University. Rhode Island College was begun by the Baptists in 1764, and in 1804 it was renamed Brown University in honor of a benefactor. Brown was especially liberal in welcoming young men from other denominations. In New York City, the Anglicans set up King's College in 1746, with its president Doctor Samuel Johnson the only teacher. It closed during the American Revolution, and reopened in 1784 under the name of Columbia College; it is now Columbia University. The Academy of Pennsylvania was created in 1749 by Benjamin Franklin and other civic minded leaders in Philadelphia, and unlike the others was not oriented toward the training of ministers. It was renamed the University of Pennsylvania in 1791. the Dutch Reform Church in 1766 set up Queen's College in New Jersey, which later became Rutgers University. Dartmouth College, chartered in 1769, grew out of school for Indians, and was moved to its present site in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1770.

All of the schools were small, with a limited undergraduate curriculum oriented on the liberal arts. Students were drilled in Greek, Latin, geometry, ancient history, logic, ethics and rhetoric, with few discussions and no lab sessions. The college president typically enforced strict discipline, and the upperclassman enjoyed hazing the freshman. Many students were younger than 17, and most of the colleges also operated a preparatory school. There were no organized sports, or Greek-letter fraternities, but literary societies were active. Tuition was very low and scholarships were few.

There were no schools of law in the colonies. However, a few lawyers studied at the highly prestigious Inns of Court in London, while the majority served apprenticeships with established American lawyers. Law was very well established in the colonies, compared to medicine, which was in rudimentary condition. In the 18th century, 117 Americans had graduated in medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, but most physicians learned as apprentices in the colonies. In Philadelphia, the Medical College of Philadelphia was founded in 1765, and became affiliated with the university in 1791. In New York, the medical department of King's College was established in 1767, and in 1770 awarded the first American M.D. degree.

Impact of colleges in 19th century
Summarizing the research of Burke and Hall, Katz concludes that in the 19th century:

    The nation's many small colleges helped young men make the transition from rural farms to complex urban occupations.
    These colleges especially promoted upward mobility by preparing ministers, and thereby provided towns across the country with a core of community leaders.
    The more elite colleges became increasingly exclusive and contributed relatively little to upward social mobility. By concentrating on the offspring of wealthy families, ministers and a few others, the elite Eastern colleges, especially Harvard, played an important role in the formation of a Northeastern elite with great power.

"College" vs. "university" terminology
In the United States, the term college is frequently used to refer to stand-alone higher level education institutions that are not components of a university as well as to refer to components within a university. Stand-alone institutions that call themselves colleges are universities in the international sense of the term. Typically in the United States, a university is composed of an academically diverse set of units called schools or colleges, whereas a college—whether it is a stand-alone institution of higher learning or a component within a university—typically focuses on one academic sector that is self-chosen by that institution, where that college is composed of departments within that sector. Note that the multiple colleges or schools composing a university are typically collocated on the same university campus or near each other on adjacent campuses within the same metropolitan area. Unlike colleges versus universities in other portions of the world, a stand-alone college is truly stand-alone and is not part of a university, and is also not affiliated with an affiliating university.

Each institution may choose from several different schemes of organization using the terms, in most-macroscopic to most-microscopic order: university, college, school, division, department, and office. To illustrate the finer points of how these terms are used, consider four example institutions:

    Purdue University is composed of multiple colleges—among others, the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering. Of these Purdue breaks the College of Agriculture down into departments, such as the Department Agronomy or the Department of Entomology, whereas Purdue breaks down the College of Engineering into schools, such as the School of Electrical Engineering, which enrolls more students than some of its colleges do. As is common in this scheme, Purdue categorizes both its undergraduate students (and faculty and programs) and its post-graduate students (and faculty and programs) via this scheme of decomposition.
    Compare this to Brown University, which is composed of one college (The College, which is for undergraduates) and two schools (the Graduate School, which is for post-graduate students, and the Medical School, which is for the preparation of medical doctors).
    Likewise, Dartmouth College is a stand-alone institution that names itself using the college term, but is organized similarly to Brown University with undergraduates enrolled in Dartmouth College (directly) and Dartmouth College containing three graduate schools that enroll the post-graduate students: the Tuck School of Business, the Thayer School of Engineering, and Dartmouth Medical School.
    Compare this to an entirely-undergraduate liberal-arts college that is a stand-alone institution, Carleton College, which is composed of only the college that contains departments for arts, languages, natural sciences, and physical sciences. Carleton is a pure example of a stand-alone college in the USA sense of the term “college”. Carleton confers no graduate degrees. Carleton has no schools that focus on a non-liberal-arts mission, such as a school of technology or engineering or nursing. Analogous to the Purdue University’s use of the term college, Carleton College is an academic sector composed of related departments that share a common liberal-arts philosophy of education. Analogous to the Brown and Dartmouth uses of the term college, Carleton College is entirely undergraduate.

In the Purdue University example, a college as a component of the university is a topical decomposition, focused on an academic sector of directly related academic disciplines. In the Brown University example, a college as a component of the university focuses on the undergraduate mission. In the Dartmouth College example of a college as a stand-alone institution, a college focusing on the undergraduate mission is the prevailing but distinct identity of what is arguably a university when the collective of college and schools are considered. In the Carleton College example, the purest example of the USA's use of the term college is displayed in two ways:

    a homogeneous collection of academic-discipline departments that are unified under a common philosophy of education; and
    an undergraduate focus on four-year degrees.