A Brief History of Colleges and Universities

The earliest colleges were founded in 15th-cent. Paris as endowed residence halls for university students. It was only later, at Oxford and Cambridge, in England, that the college became the principal center of learning. Degrees, however, continued to be conferred by the university with which the college was associated.

In America, however, the liberal arts college arose as a separate institution, with numerous colleges founded in the 17th and 18th cent. To train young men for the ministry, e.g., Harvard (1636), William and Mary (1693), Yale (1701), Princeton (1746), and Columbia (1754). These were joined in the next century by a number of women's colleges: Mount Holyoke (1837), Elmira (1853), Vassar (1861), Wellesley (1871), Smith (1871), Bryn Mawr (1881), and Barnard (1889).

Teachers' colleges, or NORMAL SCHOOLS, also developed in the 19th cent. By the 20th cent., many American colleges had grown into universities; today, the distinction between the two has blurred, with many colleges granting graduate degrees.

COMMUNITY COLLEGES have greatly expanded opportunities for higher education in the U.S. since World War II.