Higher education in the United States is quite multi-faceted and decentralized. It is characterized by diversity in both the types of institutions and characteristics of the students. Postsecondary institutions vary in terms of the types of degrees awarded, control (public or private), and whether they are operated on a not-for-profit or for-profit basis. Beyond these basic differences, they have distinctly different missions and provide a wide range of learning environments. For example, some institutions are research universities with strong graduate programs, while others focus on undergraduate education; some have a religious affiliation, while others do not; and some have selective entrance policies, while others have more open admissions. The student bodies of postsecondary institutions are diverse in other ways as well. For example, many students hold down jobs and regard themselves as employees first and students second; many delay entry into postsecondary education rather than enroll immediately after high school; and a sizable number come from foreign countries.
Colleges and universities in the U.S. are highly competitive and autonomous institutions of higher learning that can be further categorized as two-year or four-year institutions; public (which are operated by the states, cities, or counties in which they are located) or private colleges/universities; and community colleges (make up the bulk of the American two-year institutions and are quite practical for beginning students wishing to take introductory or general language courses).