Note 9: Classification of Postsecondary Education Institutions (2006)

The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) employs various categories to classify postsecondary institutions. This note outlines the different categories used in varying combinations in indicators 9, 10, 30, 45, 46, 47, and 48.


The term “postsecondary institutions” is the category used to refer to institutions with formal instructional programs and a curriculum designed primarily for students who have completed the requirements for a high school diploma or its equivalent. For many analyses, however, comparing all institutions from across this broad universe of postsecondary institutions would not be appropriate. Thus, postsecondary institutions are placed in one of three levels, based on the highest award offered at the institution:

Postsecondary institutions are further divided according to these criteria: degree-granting versus non-degree-granting; type of financial control; and Title IV-participating versus not Title IV-participating.

Degree-granting institutions offer associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and/or first-professional degrees that a state agency recognizes or authorizes. Non-degree-granting institutions offer other kinds of credentials and exist at all three levels. The number of 4-year non-degree-granting institutions is small compared with the number at both the 2-year but less-than-4-year and less-than-2-year levels.

IPEDS classifies institutions at each of the three levels of institutions by type of financial control: public; private not-for-profit; or private for-profit (e.g., proprietary schools). Thus, IPEDS divides the universe of postsecondary institutions into nine different “sectors.” In some sectors (for example, private for-profit 4-year institutions), the number of institutions is small relative to other sectors. Institutions in any of these nine sectors can be degree- or non-degree-granting.

Institutions in any of these nine sectors can also be Title IV-participating or not. For an institution to participate in federal Title IV Higher Education Act, Part C, financial aid programs, it must offer a program of study at least 300 clock hours in length; have accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education; have been in business for at least 2 years; and have a Title IV participation agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. All indicators in this volume using IPEDS data are restricted to Title IV-participating institutions.

In some indicators based on IPEDS data, 4-year degree-granting institutions are further classified according to the highest degree awarded. Doctoral institutions award at least 20 doctoral degrees per year. Master’s institutions award 20 or more master’s degrees per year. The remaining institutions are considered to be Other 4-year institutions. The number of degrees awarded by an institution in a given year is obtained for each institution from data published in the IPEDS “Completions Survey” (IPEDS-C).

Indicator 9 includes 2-year (short for 2-year but less-than-4-year) and 4-year degree-granting institutions in its analysis.

Indicator 30 includes 4-year-and-above degree-granting institutions.

Indicator 45 includes 2-year (short for 2-year but less-than-4-year) and 4-year degree-granting institutions in its analysis.


The Carnegie Classification groups American colleges and universities by their purpose and size. First developed in 1970 by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, the classification system does not establish a hierarchy among 2- and 4-year degree-granting institutions; instead, it groups colleges and universities with similar programs and purposes to facilitate meaningful comparisons and analysis. Since it was created, the Carnegie Classification system has been revised four times—in 1976, 1987, 1994, and 2000. The 2000 classification, used in this volume, divides postsecondary institutions into 9 categories, with the 9th category—Specialized Institutions—subdivided into 10 subcategories (see table of definitions below).

The information used to classify institutions into the Carnegie categories comes from survey data. The 2000 version of Carnegie Classifications relied on data from the 1995–96 through 1997–98 “Completions” surveys. These surveys were conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and are included in IPEDS.

The following key provides a guide to the category labels that appear in indicators 46 and 47, which use abbreviated versions of the Carnegie Classification labels.

Indicator 46

Indicator 47

Carnegie Classification Categories (2000 Definitions1)

Carnegie Classification Categories (2000 Definitions)

1Carnegie Foundation of Institutions of Higher Education,
2000 Edition

2Doctoral degrees include Doctor of Education, Doctor of Juridical Science, Doctor of Public Health, and Doctor of Philosophy in any field.

3This group includes community, junior, and technical colleges.