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Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 15 percent between 1992 and 2002. Between 2002 and 2012, enrollment increased 24 percent, from 16.6 million to 20.6 million. Much of the growth between 2002 and 2012 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 28 percent, while the number of part-time students rose 19 percent. During the same time period, the number of females rose 25 percent, while the number of males rose 24 percent. Enrollment increases can be affected both by population growth and by rising rates of enrollment. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 28.5 million to 31.4 million, an increase of 10 percent, and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 37 percent in 2002 to 41 percent in 2012. In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 504,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2012. These institutions are postsecondary institutions that do not award associate’s or higher degrees; they include, for example, institutions that offer only career and technical programs of less than 2 years’ duration.

In recent years, the percentage increase in the number of students age 25 and over who enrolled in degree-granting institutions has been similar to the percentage increase in the number of younger students, but the rate of increase is expected to be higher for students age 25 and over than for younger students in the coming years. Between 2000 and 2012, the enrollment of students under age 25 and the enrollment of those age 25 and over both increased by 35 percent. From 2012 to 2023, however, NCES projects the rate of increase for students under age 25 to be 12 percent, compared with 20 percent for students age 25 and over.

Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate and postbaccalaureate levels. Undergraduate enrollment increased 47 percent between 1970 and 1983, when it reached 10.8 million. Undergraduate enrollment dipped to 10.6 million in 1984 and 1985, but then increased each year from 1985 to 1992, rising 18 percent before stabilizing between 1992 and 1998. Between 2002 and 2012, undergraduate enrollment rose 24 percent overall, from 14.3 million to 17.7 million; however, undergraduate enrollment in 2012 was lower than in 2010 (18.1 million).

Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased 34 percent between 1970 and 1984, with most of this increase occurring in the early 1970s. Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased from 1985 to 2012, rising a total of 76 percent. During the last decade of this period, between 2002 and 2012, postbaccalaureate enrollment rose 24 percent, from 2.4 million to 2.9 million.

Since 1988, the number of females in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of males. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 28 percent, compared with a 42 percent increase in the number of full-time female postbaccalaureate students. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males increased by 8 percent and the number of females increased by 13 percent.

The percentage of American college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native has been increasing. From 1976 to 2012, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 15 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 percent to 15 percent, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students rose from 0.7 to 0.9 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 60 percent.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 (NCES 2015-011), Chapter 3.

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education