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:

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:

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:

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

In some indicators based on IPEDS data, 4-year-and-above degree-granting institutions are further classified according to the highest degree awarded:

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.