The idea and plans for colleges and universities came to America from England. Our first ancestors drew many of our customs for today from our mother country. When higher education first started in America, they were colleges. A college was generally concerned with one type of degree. The first ones copied the one-on-one teaching that Oxford was practicing at that time. It was more of an elitist education.

As time passed, more and more subjects or interests were added to the schools. The education had more classes and added research to the curriculum and universities were born. Today, in America, only the academics really distinguish between college and university. It is common to hear someone ask, “What college did you attend?” No one answers that they didn’t go to a college but a university.

To explain the difference between a college and university, I will use Western Kentucky University because I saw it grow from a college to a university. Western is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky but it started in Glasgow, Kentucky as Glasgow Normal School in 1800’s. It moved to Bowling Green in 1909. When it moved, Henry Hardin Cherry bought it and changed its name to Western Kentucky Normal School. A normal school meant it taught others to teach. After a few years, they changed the name to Western Kentucky State Teachers College. The school had become a public university and a state school at that time. As the school grew and added more degrees, they dropped the word Teachers and it became Western Kentucky State College. The first added degree was in Business. Soon, along came nursing. A few more were added.

In order to become a university, Western had to have higher degrees to offer and more colleges to make up the whole university. Western had to offer a Master’s in some of the colleges. Western now hads these colleges as part of the University:

  • The Bowling Green Community College of Western Kentucky University
  • The College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
  • The Gordon Ford College of Business
  • Ogden College of Science And Engineering
  • Potter College of Arts and Letters
  • University College
  • College of Health and Human Services

As you can see, the Teachers college became a College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. With an English degree, one would graduate from Western Kentucky University and technically from the Potter College of Arts and Letters. The Community College and University College are the last two colleges added to the university.

In the present day, WKU offers eighty majors and seventy minors. With the Community College there are seventeen associate degrees and five programs that earn a certificate. The academic eighty degrees fall into these Bachelor degrees.

  • Bachelor of Engineering
  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts
  • Bachelor of General Studies
  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • Bachelor of Music

For the higher degree program, there is a Graduate Office that offers the following Master degrees:

  • Master of Arts
  • Master of Arts in Education
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Science
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Health Administration
  • Master of Public Health

Looking through the degrees, one can watch how the college grows into a university. The Teachers college becomes one college of several. In the 1800’s the Normal school gave out certificates to teach. Most of the teachers were women…unmarried women. The Normal school added more requirements and allowed the student to earn a four year degree. The college of education grew and offered more courses. The hours of work and research made them Masters of teaching.

The question of college versus university comes to the student. Does the student like to learn? Are they interested upgrading through summer study? Is he interested in adding to his education? Does he want a more diverse education?

A college that offers a four year degree, generally requires more hours of different classes than just the major. If you are interested in English and you attend a college, there are 120 semester hours required and only about 40 of those hours will be in English. The student will have requirements from some of the other colleges as well as electives for something that interests them. This is true in all the colleges of the university. Some students see no need for biology or physics but they have to take some science and math courses. A person has a little bit of knowledge about everything before they graduate. Only in a Master’s program can they select classes only in their subject.

If a student thinks he wants a college degree but didn’t do well in high school, he might choose a Community College. A Community College which is part of a University will allow the student to transfer the first 66 hours to the university if that is his choice. A community college is a good place for an adult who decides he really needs college. It helps to accustom the student to studying and gives him a chance to see if this is a good choice for him.

There are other colleges that are not part of the university system. There are plenty of Bible Colleges which mainly teach Bible and preaching subjects. There will be some English so a good letter can be written for business purposes and writing sermons. Any classes would pertain to religion and church requirements. The college is private so would not need to be accredited. You could not transfer the credits but you would learn what you need for your particular denomination.

There are other private colleges…at least they might call themselves colleges. If you want to learn about diesel engines or mechanics, that is the only thing you would study. In this case, you will probably get a certificate. There are many schools which you can attend for one particular thing if you don’t want or need the academic diploma.

If the student wants to ever pursue the academic degree, he needs to find an accredited college or university. Will every class transfer to the next school? If he knows that after the community college, he wants to go to a certain school, one phone call can answer the questions about what will transfer. Always ask the university that you plan to attend if they will accept your earned hours. Hours cost in college, don’t waste money on non-transferable hours.

College can mean many different things. Define what you want before you visit too many schools. Be sure you know the difference in an academic college and a career college. Which one are you looking for?

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