A college (Latin: collegium) is an educational institution or a constituent part of an educational institution. Usage varies in English-speaking nations. A college may be a degree-awarding tertiary educational institution, an institution within a federal university, an institution offering vocational education, or a secondary school.

In the United States and Ireland, "college" and "university" are loosely interchangeable, whereas in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries, "college" may refer to a high school, a college of further education, a training institution that awards trade qualifications, or a constituent school within a university.

Secondary education
In some English-speaking countries there are secondary schools that have "college" as part of their name.

Collegiate bodies
As well as an educational institution, the term can also refer, following its etymology, to any formal group of colleagues set up under statute or regulation; often under a Royal Charter. Examples are an electoral college, the College of Arms, a college of canons, and the College of Cardinals. Other collegiate bodies include professional associations such as the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Physicians.

In the United States, there are over 4,400 colleges and universities. In popular usage, the word "college" is the generic term for any post-secondary undergraduate education. Americans go to "college" after high school, regardless of whether the specific institution is formally a college or a university. The word and its derivatives are the standard terms used to describe the institutions and experiences associated with American post-secondary undergraduate education.

Colleges vary in terms of size, degree, and length of stay. Two-year colleges, also known as junior or community colleges, usually offer an associate's degree, and four-year colleges usually offer a bachelor's degree. Often, these are entirely undergraduate institutions, although some have graduate school programs.

Four-year institutions in the U.S. that emphasize a liberal arts curriculum are known as liberal arts colleges; an example of a traditional liberal arts college is pictured to the right, Saint Anselm College. These schools have traditionally emphasized instruction at the undergraduate level, although advanced research may still occur at these institutions.

While there is no national standard in the United States, the term "university" primarily designates institutions that provide undergraduate and graduate education. A university typically has as its core and its largest internal division an undergraduate college teaching a liberal arts curriculum, also culminating in a bachelor's degree. What often distinguishes a university is having, in addition, one or more graduate schools engaged in both teaching graduate classes and engaged in research. Often these would be called a School of Law or School of Medicine, (but may also be called a college of law, or a faculty of law, and so on.).

On the other hand, public and private universities are typically more research-oriented institutions which service both an undergraduate and graduate student body. Graduate programs may grant a Master of Arts or a variety of master's degrees, including MBAs and MFAs. The doctorate is the highest academic degree in the United States, and the PhD is given in many fields. Medical schools award MDs or DOs while law schools award the JD. The extent to which graduate programs are integrated with undergraduate studies varies by university and by program. These institutions usually have a large student body. Introductory seminars on the undergraduate level can have a class size in the hundreds in some of the larger schools. Compared to liberal arts colleges, the interaction between students and full-time faculty can be limited and a higher number of undergraduate classes may be taught by graduate student TAs.

Some institutions, such as Dartmouth College and The College of William & Mary, have retained the term "college" in their names for historical reasons or because of an undergraduate focus, although they offer higher degrees. Also, many colleges may offer a Master of Arts degree in some field without a full curriculum leading to a PhD. Some schools that were branded as a "College" have changed their names to "University" (Robert Morris University and Whitworth University being relatively recent examples), but often have to receive state approval before doing so, even if they are private schools. In one unique case, Boston College and Boston University, both located in Boston, Massachusetts, are completely separate institutions altogether. Another unique case is that of Vincennes University in Indiana, which is styled and chartered as a "university" even though almost all of its academic programs lead only to (two-year) associate degrees.

Usage of the terms varies among the states, each of which operates its own institutions and licenses private ones. In 1996 for example, Georgia changed all of its four-year institutions previously designated as colleges to universities, and all of its vocational technology schools to technical colleges. (Previously, only four-year research institutions were called "universities"; the Georgia Institute of Technology, also a four-year research institution, has never been styled as a "college" or "university".) Other states have changed the names of individual colleges, many having started as a teachers' college or vocational school (such as an A&M — an agricultural and mechanical school) that ended up as a full-fledged state university.

"University" and "college" do not exhaust all possible titles for an American institution of higher education. Other options include "institute" (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), "academy" (United States Military Academy), "union" (Cooper Union), "conservatory" (New England Conservatory), and "school" (Juilliard School), although these titles are only for their official names. In colloquial use, they are still referred to as "college" when referring to their undergraduate studies.

The term college is also, as in the United Kingdom, used for a constituent semi-autonomous part of a larger university but generally organized on academic rather than residential lines. For example, at many institutions, the undergraduate portion of the university can be briefly referred to as the college (such as The College of the University of Chicago, Harvard College at Harvard, or Columbia College at Columbia) while at others, such as the University of California, Berkeley, each of the faculties may be called a "college" (the "college of engineering", the "college of nursing", and so forth). There exist other variants for historical reasons; for example, Duke University, which was called Trinity College until the 1920s, still calls its main undergraduate subdivision Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Some American universities, such as Princeton, Rice, and Yale do have residential colleges along the lines of Oxford or Cambridge, but the name was clearly adopted in homage to the British system. Unlike the Oxbridge colleges, these residential colleges are not autonomous legal entities nor are they typically much involved in education itself, being primarily concerned with room, board, and social life. At the University of Michigan, University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Santa Cruz, however, each of the residential colleges do teach its own core writing courses and has its own distinctive set of graduation requirements.

The origin of the U.S. usage
The founders of the first institutions of higher education in the United States were graduates of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. The small institutions they founded would not have seemed to them like universities — they were tiny and did not offer the higher degrees in medicine and theology. Furthermore, they were not composed of several small colleges. Instead, the new institutions felt like the Oxford and Cambridge colleges they were used to — small communities, housing and feeding their students, with instruction from residential tutors (as in the United Kingdom, described above). When the first students came to be graduated, these "colleges" assumed the right to confer degrees upon them, usually with authority—for example, The College of William & Mary has a Royal Charter from the British monarchy allowing it to confer degrees while Dartmouth College has a charter permitting it to award degrees "as are usually granted in either of the universities, or any other college in our realm of Great Britain."

The leaders of Harvard College (which granted America's first degrees in 1642) might have thought of their college as the first of many residential colleges which would grow up into a New Cambridge university. However, over time, few new colleges were founded there, and Harvard grew and added higher faculties. Eventually, it changed its title to university, but the term "college" had stuck and "colleges" have arisen across the United States.

In U.S. usage, the word "college" embodies not only a particular type of school, but has historically been used to refer to the general concept of higher education when it is not necessary to specify a school, as in "going to college" or "college savings accounts" offered by banks.

The Morrill Land-Grant Act

In addition to private colleges and universities, the U.S. also has a system of government funded, public universities. Many were founded under the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862. When the Morrill Act was established, the original colleges on the east coast, primarily those of the Ivy League and several religious based colleges, were the only form of higher education available, and were often confined only to the children of the elite. A movement had arisen to bring a form of more practical higher education to the masses, as "…many politicians and educators wanted to make it possible for all young Americans to receive some sort of advanced education." The Morrill Act "…made it possible for the new western states to establish colleges for the citizens." Its goal was to make higher education more easily accessible to the citizenry of the country, specifically to improve agricultural systems by providing training and scholarship in the production and sales of agricultural products, and to provide formal education in "…agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other professions that seemed practical at the time."

The act was eventually extended to allow all states that had remained with the Union during the American Civil War, and eventually all states, to establish such institutions. Most of the colleges established under the Morrill Act have since become full universities, and some are among the elite of the world.

Professional bodies
Numerous professional bodies in the U.S. also use the appellation "College". Examples in medicine include the American College of Physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American College of Surgeons, in osteopathic medicine the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians and the American College of Osteopathic Internists, and in dentistry the American College of Dentists and the American College of Prosthodontists.

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