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Undergraduate Enrollment
(Last Updated: May 2013)

Total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 37 percent in the most recent decade, from 13.2 million students in fall 2000 to 17.6 million in fall 2009. By 2011, some 18.1 million undergraduate students were enrolled, a decrease of less than 1 percent from 2010.

In the most recent decade, total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased from 13.2 million students in fall 2000 to 17.6 million in fall 2009. Undergraduate enrollment increased at a faster rate between 2000 and 2009 (34 percent) than during the 1980s (12 percent) and the 1990s (7 percent); during the 1970s, the rate of growth was 36 percent. During the two most recent survey years, 2010 and 2011, undergraduate enrollment decreased by less than 1 percent. Between 2011 and 2021, undergraduate enrollment is expected to increase to 20.3 million students. This will reflect a slower rate of increase (12 percent) than during the early 2000s.


Figure 1. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by sex: Fall 1970-2021

Figure 1. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by sex: Fall 1970-2021

NOTE: Projections are based on data through 2011. Data include unclassified undergraduate students. Data through 1995 are for institutions of higher education, while later data are for degree-granting institutions. Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. The degree-granting classification is very similar to the earlier higher education classification, but it includes more 2-year colleges and excludes a few higher education institutions that did not grant degrees. Some data have been revised from previously published figures.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1970 through 1985; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment Survey" (IPEDS-EF:86-99); and IPEDS Spring 2001 through Spring 2012, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2012, tables 2 and 240 and Digest of Education Statistics 2011, table 214.


In 2011, there were 10.2 million female undergraduate students (57 percent of total enrollment) and 7.8 million male undergraduate students (43 percent). From 1970 to 1979, female enrollment increased by 66 percent, while male enrollment increased by 13 percent. The larger increase in the number of female students resulted in females accounting for the majority of undergraduate enrollment beginning in 1978. In more recent years, the increases in enrollment for female and male students have been more similar. Between 2000 and 2009, female enrollment increased by 35 percent, while male enrollment increased by 31 percent. Female enrollment is expected to increase by 16 percent (from 10.2 to 11.9 million students) between 2011 and 2021, while male enrollment is expected to increase by 7 percent (from 7.8 to 8.4 million students).


Figure 2. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status: Fall 1970-2021

Figure 2. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status: Fall 1970-2021

NOTE: Projections are based on data through 2011. Data include unclassified undergraduate students. Data through 1995 are for institutions of higher education, while later data are for degree-granting institutions. Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. The degree-granting classification is very similar to the earlier higher education classification, but it includes more 2-year colleges and excludes a few higher education institutions that did not grant degrees. Some data have been revised from previously published figures.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1970 through 1985; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment Survey" (IPEDS-EF:86-99); and IPEDS Spring 2001 through Spring 2012, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2012, tables 2 and 240 and Digest of Education Statistics 2011, table 214.


In 2011, there were 11.4 million full-time undergraduate students and 6.7 million part-time undergraduate students. From fall 1970 to fall 2011, the number of full-time undergraduate students in postsecondary degree-granting institutions more than doubled, and the number of part-time students more than tripled. However, the patterns of increase shifted over this period: During the 1970s, full-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 15 percent, while part-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 88 percent. During the 1980s, part-time undergraduate enrollment also experienced a larger percentage increase (19 percent) than did fulltime undergraduate enrollment (8 percent). Since that period, full-time undergraduate enrollment has increased more rapidly than part-time undergraduate enrollment. During the 1990s, full-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 11 percent, compared with a less than 1 percent increase for part-time undergraduate enrollment. Between 2000 and 2009, full-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 41 percent, compared with 23 percent for part-time undergraduate enrollment. Between the two most recent survey years, 2010 and 2011, fulltime undergraduate enrollment decreased by 1 percent, while part-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 1 percent. Between 2011 and 2021, part-time undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase by 15 percent (from 6.7 to 7.7 million students), faster than full-time undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase (11 percent, from 11.4 to 12.6 million students).


Figure 3. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control of institution: Fall 1970-2021

Figure 3. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control of institution: Fall 1970-2021

NOTE: Projections are based on data through 2011. Data include unclassified undergraduate students. Data through 1995 are for institutions of higher education, while later data are for degree-granting institutions. Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. The degree-granting classification is very similar to the earlier higher education classification, but it includes more 2-year colleges and excludes a few higher education institutions that did not grant degrees. Some data have been revised from previously published figures.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1970 through 1985; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment Survey" (IPEDS-EF:86-99); and IPEDS Spring 2001 through Spring 2012, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2012, tables 2 and 240 and Digest of Education Statistics 2011, table 214.


Between fall 1970 and fall 2011, undergraduate enrollment at private nonprofit institutions increased by a lower percentage (57 percent) than at public institutions (144 percent). During this period, undergraduate enrollment at private nonprofit institutions increased from 1.7 to 2.7 million students, and undergraduate enrollment at public institutions increased from 5.6 to 13.7 million students. Undergraduate enrollment at private for-profit institutions increased by a large percentage between 1970 and 2011 compared with increases at private nonprofit and public institutions, but there were a relatively small number of undergraduate students enrolled at private for-profit institutions in 1970. Undergraduate enrollment at private for-profit institutions increased from 18,000 students in 1970 to 1.7 million in 2011. Most of this growth in the number of students occurred between 2000 and 2009; undergraduate enrollment at private for-profit institutions increased by 293 percent (from 0.4 to 1.6 million students). During the same period, undergraduate enrollment at private nonprofit institutions increased by 17 percent, and undergraduate enrollment at public institutions increased by 27 percent. As a result of these different rates of undergraduate enrollment growth, the proportion of all undergraduate students enrolled at private for-profit institutions increased from 3 percent in 2000 to 9 percent in 2009, while the proportion of all undergraduate students enrolled at private nonprofit institutions and public institutions decreased from 17 to 15 percent and from 80 to 76 percent, respectively. The distribution of undergraduate students remained the same in 2011 as that in 2009. More recently, the pattern of rapid undergraduate enrollment increases at private for-profit institutions compared with other types of institutions changed. Between the two most recent survey years, 2010 and 2011, undergraduate enrollment at private for-profit institutions decreased by 4 percent, while enrollment at private nonprofit institutions increased by 2 percent. At public institutions, undergraduate enrollment decreased by one-tenth of a percentage point.


Figure 4. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level of institution: Fall 1970-2021

Figure 4. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level of institution: Fall 1970-2021

NOTE: Projections are based on data through 2011. Data include unclassified undergraduate students. Data through 1995 are for institutions of higher education, while later data are for degree-granting institutions. Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. The degree-granting classification is very similar to the earlier higher education classification, but it includes more 2-year colleges and excludes a few higher education institutions that did not grant degrees. Some data have been revised from previously published figures.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1970 through 1985; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment Survey" (IPEDS-EF:86-99); and IPEDS Spring 2001 through Spring 2012, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2012, tables 2 and 240.


From 1970 to 1980, undergraduate enrollment at 2-year institutions increased at a faster rate (95 percent, from 2.3 to 4.5 million students) than at 4-year institutions (18 percent, from 5.0 to 5.9 million students). The growth rate of undergraduate enrollment at 2-year institutions continued to outpace the rate at 4-year institutions during the 1980s and the 1990s. However, the pattern shifted between 2000 and 2009, when 4-year institutions had a larger percentage increase in undergraduate enrollment (39 percent, from 7.2 to 10.0 million students) than did 2-year institutions (26 percent, from 5.9 to 7.5 million students). Between 2000 and 2009, private for-profit 4-year institutions had the highest percentage increase in undergraduate enrollment among all types of institutions (470 percent, from 0.2 to 1.2 million students). Undergraduate enrollment increased by 30 percent at public 4-year institutions (from 4.8 to 6.3 million students) and by 19 percent at private nonprofit 4-year institutions (from 2.2 to 2.6 million students). Private for-profit 2-year institutions had the second largest increase in undergraduate enrollment (100 percent, from 0.2 to 0.4 million students) among all types of institutions after private for-profit 4-year institutions. Undergraduate enrollment increased by 25 percent at public 2-year institutions (from 5.7 to 7.1 million students). In contrast, undergraduate enrollment at private nonprofit 2-year institutions decreased by 41 percent, from 59,000 to 35,000 students, during the same period. Between the two most recent survey years, 2010 and 2011, only private nonprofit 2-year institutions experienced an increase in undergraduate enrollment (6 percent). Private for-profit 2-year institutions experienced the largest decrease during this period (10 percent, from 430,000 to 385,000 students). Overall in 2011, some 58 percent of undergraduate students were enrolled at 4-year institutions (10.6 million students), compared with 42 percent at 2-year institutions (7.5 million students).


Glossary terms: 2-year institution, 4-year institution, For-profit institution, Full-time enrollment, Higher education institutions, Nonprofit institution, Part-time enrollment, Private institution, Public school or institution, Undergraduate students
Data Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education