In addition to these government-funded public schools, the United States has many schools that are privately financed and maintained. More than 10 percent of all elementary and secondary students in the United States attend private schools. Religious groups, especially the Roman Catholic Church, run many of these. Many of America's most renowned universities and colleges are also privately endowed and run. As a result, although American education is expected to provide equality of opportunity, it is not easily directed toward these goals. This complex enterprise, once one of the proudest achievements of American democracy because of its diversity and inclusiveness, became the subject of intense debate and criticism during the second half of the 20th century. People debated the goals of schools as well as whether schools were educating students well enough.
History of Education in America
Until the 1830s, most American children attended school irregularly, and most schools were either run privately or by charities. This irregular system was replaced in the Northeast and Midwest by publicly financed elementary schools, known as common schools. Common schools provided rudimentary instruction in literacy and trained students in citizenship. This democratic ideal expanded after the Civil War to all parts of the nation. By the 1880s and 1890s, schools began to expand attendance requirements so that more children and older children attended school regularly. These more rigorous requirements were intended to ensure that all students, including those whose families had immigrated from elsewhere, were integrated into society. In addition, the schools tried to equip children with the more complex skills required in an industrialized urban society.
Education became increasingly important during the 20th century, as Americaís sophisticated industrial society demanded a more literate and skilled workforce. In addition, school degrees provided a sought-after means to obtain better-paying and higher-status jobs. Schools were the one American institution that could provide the literate skills and work habits necessary for Americans of all backgrounds to compete in industries. As a result, education expanded rapidly. In the first decades of the 20th century, mandatory education laws required children to complete grade school. By the end of the 20th century, many states required children to attend school until they were at least 16. In 1960, 45 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college; by 1996 that enrollment rate had risen to 65 percent. By the late 20th century, an advanced education was necessary for success in the globally competitive and technologically advanced modern economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with a bachelorís degree in 1997 earned an average of $40,000 annually, while those with a high school degree earned about $23,000. Those who did not complete high school earned about $16,000.
In the United States, higher education is widely available and obtainable through thousands of private, religious, and state-run institutions, which offer advanced professional, scientific, and other training programs that enable students to become proficient in diverse subjects. Colleges vary in cost and level of prestige. Many of the oldest and most famous colleges on the East Coast are expensive and set extremely high admissions standards. Large state universities are less difficult to enter, and their fees are substantially lower. Other types of institutions include state universities that provide engineering, teaching, and agriculture degrees; private universities and small privately endowed colleges; religious colleges and universities; and community and junior colleges that offer part-time and two-year degree programs. This complex and diverse range of schools has made American higher education the envy of other countries and one of the nationís greatest assets in creating and maintaining a technologically advanced society.
When more people began to attend college, there were a number of repercussions. Going to college delayed maturity and independence for many Americans, extending many of the stresses of adolescence into a personís 20s and postponing the rites of adulthood, such as marriage and childbearing. As society paid more attention to education, it also devoted a greater proportion of its resources to it. Local communities were required to spend more money on schools and teachers, while colleges and universities were driven to expand their facilities and course offerings to accommodate an ever-growing student body. Parents were also expected to support their children longer and to forgo their children's contribution to the household.
Education is an enormous investment that requires contributions from many sources. American higher education is especially expensive, with its heavy investment in laboratory space and research equipment. It receives funding from private individuals, foundations, and corporations. Many private universities have large endowments, or funds that sustain the institutions beyond what students pay in tuition and fees. Many, such as Harvard University in Massachusetts and Stanford University in California, raise large sums of money through fund drives. Even many state-funded universities seek funds from private sources to augment their budgets. Most major state universities, such as those in Michigan and California, now rely on a mixture of state and private resources.
Before World War II, the federal government generally played a minor role in financing education, with the exception of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. These acts granted the states public lands that could be sold for the purpose of establishing and maintaining institutions of higher education. Many so-called land-grant state universities were founded during the 19th century as a result of this funding. Today, land-grant colleges include some of the nationís premier state universities.