Schools, Colleges, Universities, Institutes

Schools, Colleges, Universities, and Institutes: Any Difference?

The terms “school,” “college,” “institute,” and “university” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are important differences between them. The word “school” describes any place where people learn, but the other terms are more specific.

A university is an institution which offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, whereas colleges offer only undergraduate degrees. As a general rule, colleges tend to be smaller than universities.

An institute usually specializes in degree programs in a group of closely related subject areas. You will come across degree programs offered at institutes of technology, institutes of fashion, and institutes of art and design.

Research centers offer graduate degrees or research and training opportunities, and they may or may not be affiliated with universities.

State Universities

State universities are founded and subsidized by U.S. state governments to provide low-cost education. They primarily serve residents of the state where they are located, but are also open to students from all over the world. They may also be called public universities to distinguish them from private institutions. State universities are usually very large, with enrollments of 20,000 or more students. They generally admit a wider range of students than private universities. State university tuition costs are generally lower than those of private universities. Also, in-state residents pay much lower tuition than students from other states. International students are also considered out-of-state residents and therefore do not benefit from reduced tuition at state institutions.

Private Universities

Private institutions are supported by student tuition, investment income, research contracts, and private donations from their alumni. Tuition fees tend to be higher at private universities than at state universities, and there is no difference between the costs for in-state students versus out-of-state students. In general, private universities have less than 20,000 students, and private colleges may have less than 2,000 students on their campuses.

Community Colleges

Community colleges are community-based institutions with close links to secondary schools, community groups, and employers. Many students live close to campus with their families. Community colleges are usually public institutions, and are sometimes called junior colleges or two-year colleges. Community colleges provide two-year associate’s degree programs, usually called the Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degrees. They also provide excellent technical and vocational programs. Tuition costs are often lower at two-year schools than at four-year institutions, and many have agreements to allow students to move easily into the third year of a bachelor’s degree at the local state university.

Technical and Vocational Colleges

These institutions prepare students for entry into, or promotion within, the world of work. They offer certificates and other short-term programs that train students in a specific vocation or technology. Programs usually last under two years. There are several thousand technical and vocational colleges across the United States, and they may be private or public institutions.