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Characteristics of Postsecondary Students
(Last Updated: May 2014)

Some 10.6 million undergraduate students attended 4-year institutions in 2012, while 7.2 million attended 2-year institutions. At 4-year institutions in 2012, some 77 percent of undergraduate students attended full time, compared with 41 percent at 2-year institutions.

In fall 2012, there were 17.7 million undergraduate students and 2.9 million postbaccalaureate (graduate) students attending degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States. Undergraduate students can attend either 4-year institutions that award bachelor’s or higher degrees or they can attend 2-year institutions that award associate's degrees and certificates and offer courses that may be creditable towards a bachelor's degree to be earned at a 4-year institution. Some 10.6 million undergraduate students (60 percent of the total) attended 4-year institutions in fall 2012, while 7.2 million (40 percent of the total) attended 2-year institutions. Of undergraduate students at 4-year institutions that year, 8.2 million, or 77 percent, attended full time. Of undergraduate students at 2-year institutions that year, 2.9 million (41 percent) were full-time students and 4.2 million (59 percent) were part-time students.


Figure 1. Percentage distribution of full-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2011

Figure 1. Percentage distribution of full-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2011

NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and the exclusion of "age unknown" students.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2012, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 303.50.


At public and private nonprofit 4-year institutions in 2011, most of the full-time undergraduates (88 and 86 percent, respectively) were young adults (i.e., under the age of 25). However, in 2011 just 29 percent of full-time students were young adults at private for-profit 4-year institutions (39 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 32 percent were age 35 and older).

Of full-time students at 2-year institutions in 2011, young adults accounted for 71 percent of enrollment at public institutions, 59 percent of enrollment at private nonprofit institutions, and 47 percent of enrollment at private for-profit institutions. Regarding the remaining age groups of full-time students in 2011, at public 2-year institutions 18 percent were between 25 and 34 years old, and 11 percent were 35 and older; at private nonprofit institutions 25 percent were between 25 and 34, and 16 percent were 35 and older; and at private for-profit institutions 31 percent were between 25 and 34, and 21 percent were 35 and older.


Figure 2. Percentage distribution of part-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2011

Figure 2. Percentage distribution of part-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2011

NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and the exclusion of “age unknown” students.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2012, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 303.50.


Of undergraduate students enrolled part time in 4-year institutions in 2011, young adults made up half of the enrollment at public institutions, 32 percent of the enrollment at private nonprofit institutions, and 21 percent of the enrollment at private for-profit institutions. Students ages 25–34 and 35 and older accounted for the other half of the part-time enrollment at public 4-year institutions (29 and 21 percent, respectively), two-thirds of the part-time enrollment at private nonprofit 4-year institutions (30 and 36 percent, respectively), and over three-quarters of the part-time enrollment at private for-profit 4-year institutions (39 percent each).

At public 2-year institutions in 2011, some 52 percent of part-time students were young adults, while 25 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 23 percent were 35 and older. At private nonprofit 2-year institutions, some 40 percent of part-time students were young adults, 32 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 27 percent were 35 and older. At private for-profit 2-year institutions, 39 percent of part-time students were young adults, 35 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 26 percent were age 35 and older.


Figure 3. Percentage distribution of total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and race/ethnicity of student: Fall 2012

Figure 3. . Percentage distribution of total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and race/ethnicity of student: Fall 2012

# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2013, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 306.50.


Sixty-eight percent of all undergraduate students (full-time and part-time) at private nonprofit 4-year institutions in 2012 were White, which was higher than the percentage of White students at either public (63 percent) or private for-profit 4-year institutions (49 percent). For Asian undergraduate students at 4-year institutions that year, the highest percentage was at public institutions (7 percent). A higher percentage of the students at 4-year private for-profit institutions were Black (29 percent) than at public 4-year institutions (12 percent) and private nonprofit 4-year institutions (13 percent). Similarly, a higher percentage of the students at 4-year private for-profit institutions were Hispanic (15 percent) than at public (14 percent) and private nonprofit (10 percent) institutions.

The percentages of White and Asian students at public 2-year institutions were higher than the percentages at private nonprofit and private for-profit institutions. In contrast, the percentages of students at private nonprofit and private for-profit institutions who were Black (29 and 27 percent, respectively) were higher than the percentage at public institutions (15 percent).The percentage of students who were Hispanic at private for-profit institutions (25 percent) was higher than the percentages at public institutions (20 percent) and private nonprofit institutions (13 percent).


Figure 4. Percentage distribution of total postbaccalaureate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional control and race/ethnicity of student: Fall 2012

Figure 4. Percentage distribution of total postbaccalaureate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional control and race/ethnicity of student: Fall 2012

# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2013, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 306.50.


In 2012, some 48 percent of postbaccalaureate (graduate) students attended public institutions, 42 percent attended private nonprofit institutions, and 10 percent attended private for-profit institutions. There were differences in attendance patterns by race/ethnicity, however. At public institutions in 2012, some 71 percent of graduate students were White, compared with 68 percent at private nonprofit institutions and 48 percent at private for-profit institutions. Thirty-six percent of graduate students at private for-profit institutions were Black, compared with 13 percent of students at private nonprofit institutions and 11 percent of students at public institutions. Hispanics accounted for 9 percent of graduate enrollment at public institutions and 8 percent of graduate enrollment at both private nonprofit and private for-profit institutions, while Asians accounted for 9 percent of graduate enrollment at private nonprofit institutions, 7 percent of graduate enrollment at public institutions, and 4 percent of graduate enrollment at private for-profit institutions.


Figure 5. Percentage of college students 16 to 24 years old who were employed, by hours worked per week and attendance status: October 2012

Figure 5. Percentage of college students 16 to 24 years old who were employed, by hours worked per week and attendance status: October 2012

NOTE: Students were classified as full time if they were taking at least 12 hours of classes (or at least 9 hours of graduate classes) during an average school week and as part time if they were taking fewer hours.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 2012. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 503.20.


Based on the Current Population Survey (CPS), about 41 percent of full-time college students and 72 percent of part-time college students 16 to 24 years old were employed in October 2012. About 7 percent of the full-time students worked 35 or more hours per week, 18 percent worked 20 to 34 hours per week, and 15 percent worked less than 20 hours per week. In comparison, 32 percent of the part-time students worked 35 or more hours per week, 29 percent worked 20 to 34 hours per week, and 9 percent worked less than 20 hours per week.


Figure 6. Percentage of college students 16 to 24 years old who were employed, by attendance status and hours worked per week: October 2000 through 2012

Figure 6. Percentage of college students 16 to 24 years old who were employed, by attendance status and hours worked per week: October 2000 through 2012

NOTE: Students were classified as full time if they were taking at least 12 hours of classes (or at least 9 hours of graduate classes) during an average school week and as part time if they were taking fewer hours.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 2000 through October 2012. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 503.20.


In general, smaller percentages of all college students 16 to 24 years old were working in 2012 than had been working a decade prior. The percentage of full-time students who were employed declined from 52 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2012, and the percentage of part-time students who were employed declined from 85 to 72 percent. During this period, the percentage of all part-time students who worked 35 or more hours per week declined 15 percentage points, from 47 to 32 percent. There were no measurable changes in the percentages of part-time students who worked 20 to 34 hours per week and less than 20 hours per week. The percentage of full-time students who worked 35 or more hours declined from 9 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2012.


Glossary terms: Degree-granting institutions, Full-time enrollment, Part-time enrollment, Postbaccalaureate enrollment, Private for-profit institution, Private nonprofit institution, Public school or institution, Undergraduate students
Data Sources: Current Population Survey (CPS) and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)


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