university [vs. college -- Forum Mod.]

This formerly read-only archive of threads dates back to 1996, but as of March 2007 is open to new postings. For technical reasons, the early dates shown do not accurately reflect the actual date of posting.

Feel free to add new postings to any of the existing threads in the archived forums, but please create any new language-related threads in one of the Language Discussion Forums.

Re: university

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jul 03, 2009 6:53 am

Shelley, I agree with you. From my experience and also after doing some snooping around (dictionary checking, college/university name checking, etc.) it appears to me that in the U.S. UNIVERSITY and COLLEGE are not typically interchangeable. I would say that they are sometimes loosely interchangeable but certainly not in the majority of cases. Harvard College, for example, is the undergraduate division of Harvard University, . . . And as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, I was a student in the College of Engineering. And, incidentally, I’ve never heard anyone call a U.S. community college (which is a significant proportion of total number of colleges and universities in this country) a ‘community university.’

I tend to agree with the gist of Harry’s above statement:
hsargent wrote: I always thought a University is a collection of individuals Colleges; Engineering, Agriculture, Fine Arts, etc.
And I also like the pretty clear distinction made in the following (leaving out all the fill on buildings, faculty, etc.):



An institution for higher learning with teaching and research facilities constituting a graduate school and professional schools that award master's degrees and doctorates and an undergraduate division that awards bachelor's degrees.


a) An institution of higher learning that grants the bachelor's degree in liberal arts or science or both.

b) An undergraduate division or school of a university offering courses and granting degrees in a particular field.

c) A school, sometimes but not always a university, offering special instruction in professional or technical subjects.

A word on ‘liberal arts colleges’ and other confusing things:


LIBERAL ARTS noun: Academic disciplines, such as languages, literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, and science, that provide information of general cultural concern: “The term ‘liberal arts’ connotes a certain elevation above utilitarian concerns. Yet liberal education is intensely useful” (George F. Will). [[Note that this seems to conflict with the use of ‘liberal arts or science’ in their COLLEGE definition in (a) above. I’ve always taken liberal arts and science degrees to be separate cases. Seem to me liberal arts folks major in things like English, history, math, and philosophy. Science types major in things like physics, chemistry, and biology. However, a ‘liberal arts college’ could easily offer undergraduate degrees in all of these.]]

Liberal arts colleges (e.g., Amherst College, Oberlin College, Swathmore College, Vassar College, William’s College, . . .), as in (a) above, mainly cater to undergraduates although some do have graduate programs. They are also not generally research institutions, but teaching institutions – that is their main mission.

However, to muddy the waters here, some schools call themselves ‘universities,’ when they may or may not be one in the usual sense defined above. For example, Bucknell University is a traditional, primarily undergraduate ‘liberal arts college,’ and is always labeled as such, even though its name includes the word ‘university.’ Wesleyan University, on the other hand seems to be a ‘university’ in the traditional sense with extensive graduate and research programs, but it is also labeled as a ‘liberal arts college.’

And then there are what are sometimes referred to as ‘baccalaureate colleges,’ which emphasize undergraduate education but wouldn’t be considered a ‘liberal arts college’ because degrees granted in ‘liberal arts’ disciplines are in the minority (e.g. the famed Cooper Union, in NYC, offers degrees in architecture, fine arts, and engineering)

To even further confuse things there are some institutions which call themselves colleges but appear to be universities. When I sat down with the head of the math department at Dartmouth College when I took my son there for parents weekend after he accepted (its a long story but in his undergraduate sojourn he ended up going to Berkeley and then Northwestern), he insisted that Dartmouth was a liberal arts college dedicated to undergraduate education and that in places like Harvard this was not the case and undergraduates got shortchanged. But Dartmouth does have extensive graduate and research programs, so which is it? Dartmouth's brand new president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, says that the institution is 'unique' and has duel missions that are not incompatible – the college can also be a great university.

Every year U.S. News & Word Report puts out an issue titled America's Best Colleges. But as one reads on, one learns that the ‘college’ in the title is being used loosely, since the breakdown includes ‘universities’ as well as ‘liberal arts colleges.’ This is an example of college and university being used interchangeably, but from all the evidence, I would still say that this is a minority usage. Interestingly, though, if one goes on to view another one of their issues titled ‘World's Best Colleges and Universities,’ one wonders why they separated the two on the world stage title and not on the national. Perhaps they were trying to accommodate the U.K. (I mused). But doesn’t the U.K. follow a similar pattern as we do (e.g. Cambridge University or the University of Cambridge is made up of various colleges?). Also, in the U.K. isn’t a college also a private secondary school? But, we’re ‘Mericans, talkin’ U.S. English here and we don’t need to pander to no limeys or other far'ners in choosin’ our choice of words. But it does seems as though U.S. News & World Report is a bit college/university schizo here, as are a significant number of the rest of us – go figure!

As far as who was the first to use the word UNIVERSITY, I’ve changed my mind. I now believe its earliest use was in reference to the diversity of unicorns!

Wiz, I just added it up (and I’ve never actually done this before) and was surprised to find that I spent 15 years as a full-time student and teacher in a college/university. And I spent 7 years teaching and taking classes in a college/ university part time. Hmm, 22 years in college – that’s a f***ing long time in what's reputed to be ‘higher education.’ And you know what? It did give me lots of interesting book-learnin,’ but I don’t think it made me a whit smarter. My father just made it through the 7th grade, but in general smarts department, I didn’t hold a candle.

Ken – July 2, 2009
Post actions:

Re: university

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Jul 08, 2009 4:40 pm

.. Ken my Pop (father) was so bloody proud when I went to Uni .. to my embarrassment he told everyone and anyone who would listen as if I was some kind of foundation student .. but then coming from the lower working class that we did it was a novelty .. the day I graduated with my first degree a group of us went round to where Pop drank in our gowns and paraphenalia and drank, sang and danced .. years and years after many of the older blokes would still talk about it to me .. and just like you Ken for all my learning I still never attained the wisdom that Pop showed me over and over .. my Pop never had the opportunity to go to University but I know full well that if he had gone he would've been a leading thinker in whatever discipline he chose such was the man he was .. one of his nicnames when he worked at the silo was Enos as in "He knows everything." .. he was a voracious reader and lateral thinker and a Communist to boot ..

Proud WoZ
Post actions:
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: university

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Sep 03, 2009 5:16 am

In the September, 2009, ‘America’s Best Colleges’ issue of U.S. News & World Report, their groupings were as follows:

National Universities: Those in the National University group are the 262 American universities (164 public and 98 private) that offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral degrees; some emphasize research.

Liberal Arts Colleges: The nations 266 liberal arts colleges emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half their degrees in the arts and sciences. Most are private institutions, but 28 are public.

Universities–Master’s: These schools offer a full range of undergraduate and master’s programs. But unlike the national universities, universities-master’s offer few, if any, doctoral programs.

Baccalaureate Colleges: Unlike liberal arts colleges, at baccalaureate schools fewer than half the students pursue degrees in liberal arts fields. The rest enter programs such as business, nursing, and education.

Looking at these rankings, in addition to thinking that the importance of college ratings is highly overrated, I got to wondering about the origin of the term LIBERAL ARTS. Here’s what I came up with:

The dictionaries define ‘the ARTS’ as ‘the ‘humanities,’ where ‘the HUMANITIES’ are defined as the study of literature, philosophy, art, etc., as distinguished from the natural sciences. And a NATURAL SCIENCE is a science, such as biology, chemistry, or physics, that deals with the objects, phenomena, or laws of nature and the physical world. Hmm. So where does mathematics fit in? Maybe by making the ARTS ‘liberal’ (i.e. LIBERAL ARTS) math got accommodated. Thank goodness they fit it in somewhere!

So where did the expression LIBERAL ARTS actually come from?

Here is an excellent discussion on the subject:


LIBERAL ARTS: The Latin adjective liber was used to describe a person who is ‘free, unrestricted or independent.’ It contrasted with servus, which meant ‘slavish, servile, subject.’ The combination of liber and the suffix -alis produced liberalis, which was used in the senses ‘of or relating to freemen’ and ‘worthy of freemen, fine, noble.’ It was also applied to someone who is ‘free in giving, generous’ and to something that is ‘plentiful or abundant.’

The Greek system of education was also that of Rome. Subjects were classified as ‘liberal arts’ (artes liberales in Latin) and ‘servile arts’ (artes serviles). The ‘liberal arts’ were those befitting a freeman. They required the exercise of mental faculties rather than physical abilities. The ‘servile arts’ were those befitting the lower classes and involved manual labor. Traditionally, the liberal arts consisted of the trivium, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, and the quadrivium, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, and Astronomy. The servile arts, by contrast, were occupational or mechanical in nature. Artes liberales passed into early French as arts libéraux and then in the fourteenth century into English as liberal arts.


LIBERAL ARTS (plural noun)

1) Academic disciplines, such as languages, literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, and science, that provide information of general cultural concern: “The term ‘liberal arts’ connotes a certain elevation above utilitarian concerns. Yet liberal education is intensely useful” (George F. Will).

2) The disciplines comprising the trivium and quadrivium.


LIBERAL ARTS [1745–55]

1) The academic course of instruction at a college intended to provide general knowledge and comprising the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences, as opposed to professional or technical subjects.

2) (during the Middle Ages) studies comprising the quadrivium and trivium, including arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, grammar, rhetoric, and logic.

The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1638 “None among all other liberall arts do require . . . so great helps.”—The Painting of the Ancients by F. Junius, page 232>

<1680 “A painting by Verrio, of Apollo and the Liberal Arts.”—Diary of J. Evelyn, 18 April>

<1753 (title) “Proposals for raising by subscription a fund to be distributed in premiums for the promoting of improvements in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Manufactures, etc.”—in William Shipley (1968) by D.G.C. Allan, page 229>

<1875 “The free use of words and phrases . . . is generally characteristic of a liberal education.”—The Dialogues of Plato (edition 2) translated by B. Jowett, IV. page 335>

<1906 (title) “The Seven LiberalArts, a Study in Mediæval Culture” by P. Abelson>

<1950 “The so-called Liberal Arts such as rhetorics, grammar, philosophy and dialectic.”—The Story of Art by E. h. Gombrich, xv. page 215>

<1961 “The better public schools . . . should be converted to liberal-arts colleges on the American pattern.”—New Scientist, 16 March. page 662/1>

<1973 “The educational problems of the troubled liberal arts college student.”—Journal of Genetic Psychology, CXXII. page 183>

<1987 “American universities, capitulating to 1960s activists, abandoned sound liberal arts teaching for trendy, ‘relevant’ studies in which all ideas have equal value. Bloom deplores this surrender to ‘cultural relativism,’ . . . Under its influence, higher education has failed to keep the flame of true learning or guide today's students, . . . The only sure way back, he claims, is to re- establish the disciplines of the liberal arts, with the classic philosophers and European savants at the heart of the curriculum.”—Time Magazine, 17 August>

<2001 “Liberal arts majors offer a lot to companies, even if they don't have tons of hot computer and technical skills. Specialists say what they do have to offer are analytical and communication skills, breadth of knowledge, and research know-how.”—Boston Globe, 27 May>

<2005 In many ways, liberal arts colleges seem uniquely well suited to provide high quality undergraduate experiences. Their relatively small size ostensibly promotes student-faculty interaction and meaningful relations with peers. . . these structural and cultural features make liberal arts colleges ‘sui generis, themselves a special kind of pedagogy.’ That is, they emphasize a range of intellectual and practical knowledge, skills, and competencies and create the conditions inside and outside the classroom that help students integrate and bring coherence to their learning. This is supported by some pretty convincing empirical evidence. Decades of studies show that residential liberal arts colleges ‘produce a pattern of consistently positive student outcomes not found in any other type of American higher-education institution.’”—Liberal Education, 1 January> [[Although this particular journal may be accused of being a bit biased, from my experience inside education and out, I have to agree. But residential liberal arts colleges do not come cheap.]]

<2009 “A study by the Carnegie Foundation shows that an increasing number of young people choose fields that promise to be instantly profitable, such as business, engineering, computer science, and health programs. Yet Lynne Cheney, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former wife [[good move]] of Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote in Newsweek that many of the country’s most successful people had a liberal arts background, . . . According to Cheney, an AT&T study showed that social science and humanities graduates moved faster into middle management than engineers and were ‘doing at least as well as their business and engineering counterparts in reaching top management levels.’”—On Becoming a Leader by W. Bennis, page 76>
Ken G – September 2, 2009
Post actions:

End of topic.
Post Reply