Pros and Cons of the U.S. Higher Education System

January 20th, 2012

By Justin Herbert

DiplomaAmerican education and higher education has taken a hit in the media in recent years. Education professionals continue to flood our news reports saying that America has fallen behind and that our education system needs to be radically reformed. The fact is, however, that higher education in the U.S. is actually gaining momentum. Let’s take a look at some of the Pros and Cons of the Higher Education system in the U.S. today.


Starting off on a positive foot, consider this: Which country has 35 of the top 50 higher education universities on the planet as ranked by the “Academic Ranking of World Universities 2011” report? That would be the United States of America. Further, the U.S has a virtual monopoly on higher education in our world region with 47 of the top 50 ranked universities in North and South America. Consider the fact that America, by the same rankings, has four of the top five universities in the world, eight of the top ten, and 17 of the top 20. Impressed yet? How about the fact that on average, each state in the U.S contains approximately 115 higher education institutions? Or the fact that the latest report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that there are more than 14 million students enrolled in American higher education?

Beyond the statistics and world rankings, politicians have taken steps to improve U.S. higher education by increasing the amount of funding provided to students, as well as creating and funding new grant and scholarship programs. According to the Council on Law for Higher Education Journal, total funding for student aid is at an all time high $173 billion, and that includes recommended increases to the Pell Grant initiative, improved funding for the American Graduation Initiative, and increasing aid for TEACH grants and the public service loan forgiveness programs as well. Further, many higher education organizations are now offering classes in online and distance-learning formats that offer non-traditional students the opportunity to complete their degrees while working or parenting full-time. These options have made higher education more accessible today than it’s ever been before in terms of options and availability.


Certainly this is not to say that the U.S. doesn’t have work to do. American higher education has been criticized for being too expensive, for failing to retain and graduate students, and for failing to advance as quickly as the rest of the world. Patrick Callan, the President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, remarked “other nations are advancing more quickly than the United States; we continue to slip behind other countries in improving college opportunities for our residents.” Callan goes on to remind us that our 25-34 year-old population continues to decline stating “the U.S. population has slipped to 10th in the percentage who have an associate degree or higher” in that age category, and he explains that “this relative erosion of our national ‘educational capital’ reflects the lack of significant improvement in the rates of college participation and completion in recent years.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. still ranks among the leaders in the percentage of adults who have obtained a degree from a higher education institution. There is no denying that our education system as a whole has slipped in recent years, but the re-dedication of resources and the drive to improve education in the U.S. may just be the answer. With increased funding from the federal government, increased opportunities for non-traditional students through online and distance-learning courses and institutions, and the onslaught of media coverage and attention, U.S. higher education is on a comeback.

Justin Herbert is an educator and a freelance writer who serves in public and higher education roles. He has an MA in Educational Leadership from the University of Cincinnati and a BA in Education from Cedarville Univeristy (OH).

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