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Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 11 percent between 1991 and 2001. Between 2001 and 2011, enrollment increased 32 percent, from 15.9 million to 21.0 million. Much of the growth between 2001 and 2011 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 38 percent, while the number of part-time students rose 23 percent. During the same time period, the number of females rose 33 percent, while the number of males rose 30 percent. Enrollment increases can be affected both by population growth and by rising rates of enrollment.

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 28.0 million to 31.1 million, an increase of 11 percent, and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 36 percent in 2001 to 42 percent in 2011. In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 572,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2011. 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 has been larger than the percentage increase in the number of younger students, but the difference between these rates of increase is expected to narrow. Between 2000 and 2011, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 35 percent. Enrollment of students 25 and over rose 41 percent during the same period. From 2011 to 2021, NCES projects a rise of 13 percent in enrollments of students under 25, and a rise of 14 percent in enrollments of students 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 2001 and 2011, undergraduate enrollment rose 32 percent, from 13.7 million to 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 throughout the period from 1985 to 2011, rising a total of 78 percent. During the last decade of this period, between 2001 and 2011, postbaccalaureate enrollment rose 32 percent, from 2.2 million to 2.9 million.

Since 1988, the number of females in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of males. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 36 percent, compared with a 56 percent increase in the number of full-time female postbaccalaureate students. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males increased by 14 percent and the number of females increased by 20 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 2011, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 14 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 61 percent.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Digest of Education Statistics, 2012 (NCES 2014-015), Chapter 3.

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