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Note 8: Classification of Postsecondary Education Institutions (2011)

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The U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) employs various categories to classify postsecondary institutions. This supplemental note outlines the different categories used in varying combinations in indicators 4, 8, 9, 23, 26, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 49, and 50.

Basic IPEDS Classifications
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. This includes programs whose purpose is academic or vocational, as well as continuing professional education programs, and excludes avocational and adult basic education programs. For many analyses, however, comparing all institutions in 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:

  • 4-year-and-above institutions: Institutions or branches that offer programs of at least 4 years' duration or offer programs at or above the baccalaureate level. These institutions award a 4-year degree or higher in one or more programs or award a post-baccalaureate or post-master's. Includes schools that offer post-baccalaureate certificates only or those that offer graduate programs only. Also includes freestanding medical, law, or other first-professional schools.
  • 2-year but less-than-4-year institutions: A postsecondary institution that offers programs of at least 2 but less than 4 years' duration. Includes occupational and vocational schools with programs of at least 1,800 hours and academic institutions with programs of less than 4 years' duration. Does not include bachelor's degree-granting institutions where the baccalaureate-level program can be completed in 3 years.
  • Less-than-2-year institutions: Institutions or branches that offer programs of less than 2 years' duration below the baccalaureate level. Includes occupational and vocational schools with programs that do not exceed 1,800 contact hours.

Postsecondary institutions are further divided according to these criteria: type of financial control, degree-granting versus non-degree-granting, and Title IV-participating versus non-Title IV-participating.

IPEDS also classifies institutions at each of the three levels of institutions by financial control:

  • Public institutions: Institutions whose programs and activities are operated by publicly elected or appointed school officials and which are supported primarily by public funds.
  • Private not-for-profit institutions: Institutions in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives no compensation other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk. These include both independent not-for-profit schools and those affiliated with a religious organization.
  • Private for-profit institutions: Institutions in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives compensation other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk (e.g., proprietary schools).

Thus, IPEDS divides the universe of postsecondary institutions into nine different "sectors," each comprising a combination of the institution level and the control of the institution. 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, a classification based on whether or not they offer students a formal award such as a degree or certificate:

  • 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 types of financial control (i.e., public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit institutions).

The number of 4-year-and-above non-degree-granting institutions is small compared with the total number of non-degree-granting institutions.

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 present only Title IV-participating institutions. For more information on the Higher Education Act of 2008, see http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea08/index.html.

In some indicators based on IPEDS data, 4-year-and-above 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 at least 20 master's degrees per year.

The remaining institutions are considered to be other 4-year degree-granting 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).

Indicators 4, 8, 22, 26, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, and 49 include 2-year (short for 2-year but less-than-4-year) degree-granting institutions in their analyses.

Indicators 8, 9, 22, 26, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, and 49 include 4-year-and-above degree-granting institutions in their analyses.

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