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Published: June 28, 2011

Graduate school

An institution of higher learning, usually a part of a university, offering courses in the entire spectrum of arts and sciences at levels higher than those available at four-year colleges. Successful completion of graduate school studies usually leads to the award of a MASTER’s or DOCTORATE degree in the arts, sciences and a variety of professions. The origin of graduate schools in the United States dates back to colonial-era apprenticeship systems that provided the standard training for physicians, attorneys and other professionals. Apprenticeships consisted of two phases. In the first, the apprentice would “read” theology, medicine, law, etc., studying all appropriate texts and performing routine duties in the office and household of his mentor (professional apprentices were all male). In the second, the apprentice participated actively in his mentor’s practice, learning the practical aspects of his profession “on the job” and eventually learning all procedures.
The formation of local and state professional societies during the late 18th and 19th centuries led to licensing procedures to assure professional standards and deter the untrained from competing with the trained and possibly sullying the reputation of the profession. Concurrently, established professionals recognized the value of organizing courses and eventually schools to provide classroom instruction during the reading phase of professional education. Such instruction relieved practicing professionals of those responsibilities, thus freeing them to earn more money in private practice. It also systematized and standardized the formal education portion of professional training. Initially, those professionals most interested in teaching organized their own private schools for profit. Thus, the distinguished lawyer and jurist TAPPING REEVE built the first law school in the United States in 1784—a small frame building in his backyard that he called the Litchfield Law School. With the help of a fellow jurist, he operated the apparently profitable private school until 1833, when competing law schools at Yale, Harvard and Columbia left it wanting for students, and it closed.
The first colleges in the American colonies were theological schools for training ministers and, as such, merit classification as professional schools. As they added secular courses, members of other professions broadened the colleges’ curricula. The first colleges to offer courses in law were the COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY in 1779, the University of Pennsylvania in 1789 and Columbia College in 1794. The University of Pennsylvania was first to offer courses in medicine, and King’s College followed suit in 1767.
The UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY was, from its beginning in 1802, an engineering school of sorts, because of the Army’s need for bridges and roads. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, however, was the first pure engineering college, founded in 1824. As increasing complexity transformed other trades into professions requiring formal classroom education, colleges expanded professional education to include agriculture, business, dentistry, education, pharmacy, veterinary medicine and other subjects. The Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 created a plethora of state agricultural and engineering colleges, and as state after state established public school systems, they also established specialized “NORMAL” SCHOOLS to train teachers.
As the curriculum expanded, colleges were forced to departmentalize their courses. Harvard was first to do so in 1828. The University of Virginia carried departmentalization a step further by dividing its students into eight specialized schools. And the lack of preparation of many students forced colleges to expand the number of basic courses in the liberal arts and sciences needed as a foundation for professional education.
Until the end of the 19th century, college and professional training remained amalgamated in a single four- or five-year course of study. In 1893, however, DANIEL COIT GILMAN, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, established the Johns Hopkins Medical School as the first pure graduate school in the United States, separate from the university but requiring a four-year college (bachelor’s) degree as a prerequisite for admission. Harvard University quickly followed suit, and the emergence of the modern graduate school had begun. Of the nearly 17 million students enrolled in institutions of higher learning in the United States, about 12% are in graduate schools and about 2% in professional schools.
(See also individual entries for law school, medical school, engineering and other professions.)
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