The evidence is overwhelming that during the denominational era a great proportion of the schools in the United States that called themselves "colleges" were in fact not colleges at all, but glorified high schools or academies that presumed to offer degrees. As the president of the University of Georgia told his trustees in 1855, the American people were generally satisfied with the name of a college, and sought for their sons not so much an education as a degree. Americans and Europeans alike who were familiar with the educational systems of the Continent and England tended to agree that American colleges characteristically (not at their worst) were rather more like the German Gymnasium, the French lycee, or the English public school than like either the university or the college of these countries.The first sentence is driven home to me every time I have to explain subject-verb agreement or how to correctly compute the slope of a graph. The second sentence is driven home to me every time the state legislature expresses interest in graduation rates and says nary a word about intellectual rigor. The last part was driven home when I was in grad school and learned that my international classmates had taken undergraduate courses that were equivalent to our graduate courses, largely because our first 1-2 years of undergraduate study cover things that they learned in high school.
All of this has happened before and will happen again.