Higher education in the United States

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In the United States, higher education is an optional stage of formal learning following secondary education. It is also referred as post-secondary education, third-stage, third-level, or tertiary education. It covers stages 5 to 8 on the International ISCED 2011 scale. It is delivered at 4,360 Title IV degree-granting institutions, known as colleges or universities.[1] These may be public or private universities, research universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, or for-profit colleges. US higher education is loosely regulated by the government and by several third-party organizations.[2] Attending college has been thought of as "a rite of passage" to which the American Dream is deeply embedded.[3]

In 2022, about 16 million students—9.6 million women and 6.6 million men—enrolled in degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S. Of the enrolled students, 45.8% enrolled in a four-year public institution, 27.8% in a four-year private institution, and 26.4% in a two-year public institution.[4] College enrollment has declined every year since a peak in 2010–2011 and is projected to continue declining or be stagnant for the next two decades.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

Strong research funding helped elite American universities dominate global rankings in the early 21st century, making them attractive to international students, professors and researchers.[11] The US higher education system is also unique in its investment in highly competitive NCAA sports, particularly in American football and basketball, with large sports stadiums and arenas adorning its campuses.[12]