Generally, universities and colleges in the United States are research and educational institutions that offer undergraduate and graduate programs. Students may also study at a community college to obtain a two-year Associate's degree, usually intended to prepare a student for vocational training or for transfer to a four-year Bachelor's program. Undergraduate programs usually consist of four years of study to obtain a Bachelor of Arts or Science, among other possibilities. In recent years, the most commonly earned undergraduate degree in the U.S. has been business studies, followed by degrees in health-related professions and in social sciences and history. After completing an undergraduate program, graduate schools provide students with the opportunity to obtain Master’s and doctoral degrees. In graduate school, students may often have research or teaching responsibilities that provide a stipend. A stipend or tuition waiver may be provided to Ph.D. students as well to support their education.
Equal opportunity for higher education?
According to the literature, higher education in the U.S. can be described as a system which propagates capitalism by assuming higher quality education through competition while simultaneously striving to promote equal opportunity and social mobility. Compared to many higher education systems in other countries, the U.S. system is highly decentralized and largely independent from federal government regulation. Recently, however, the Supreme Court made an unprecedented decision to strike down affirmative action, ruling that race-conscious college admissions policies go against the Constitution for considering students on the basis of their race rather than by their individual experiences. Affirmative action policies were initially implemented in colleges and universities to combat historic discrimination against minority groups, as higher education in the U.S. was traditionally dominated by White men, with women only starting to make rapid gains in obtaining a postgraduate degree throughout the 1980s.
However, although women now account for over half of graduates in the United States today, there remains a significant gap within various ethnic groups. Non-White students make up a minority of all Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees, and doctoral degrees earned throughout the nation. Studies have shown that students of color are more likely to encounter discrimination and struggle with competing responsibilities, ultimately facing further barriers to higher education in addition to the cost. Consequently, it seems unlikely that the end of affirmative action will aid in tackling discrimination or promoting more diversity in higher education institutions.