Postsecondary education includes an array of diverse educational experiences, including a wide range of programs offered by American colleges and universities. For example, a community college may offer vocational training or the first 2 years of training at the college level. A university typically offers a full undergraduate course of study leading to a bachelor's degree as well as first professional and graduate programs leading to advanced degrees. Vocational and technical institutions offer training programs that are designed to prepare students for specific careers. Community groups, religious organizations, libraries, and businesses provide other types of educational opportunities for adults.
This chapter provides an overview of the latest statistics on postsecondary education, which includes academic, vocational, and continuing professional education programs after high school. However, to maintain comparability over time, most of the data in the Digest are for degree-granting institutions, which include 2- and 4-year colleges and universities and exclude most vocational programs of less than 2 years duration and continuing education programs. This chapter highlights historical data that enable the reader to observe long range trends in college education in America.
Other chapters provide related information on postsecondary education. Data on price indexes and on the number of degrees held by the general population are shown in chapter 1. Chapter 4 contains tabulations on federal funding for postsecondary education. Information on employment outcomes for college graduates is shown in chapter 5. Chapter 7 contains data on college libraries and use of computers by young adults. Further information on survey methodologies is presented in the Guide to Sources in the appendix and in the publications cited in the source notes.
Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 17 percent between 1982 and 1992 (table 171). Between 1992 and 2002, enrollment increased at a slightly slower rate (15 percent), from 14.5 million to 16.6 million. There was a slight decline in enrollment from 1992 to 1995, but it was overshadowed by large increases after that time period. Much of the growth between 1992 and 2002 was in female enrollment; the number of men enrolled rose 10 percent, while the number of women increased by 18 percent. During the same time period, part-time enrollment rose by 5 percent compared to an increase of 22 percent in full-time enrollment. In addition to the enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 423,000 students attended non degree-granting, Title IV eligible,1 postsecondary institutions in fall 2002 (table 169).
The number of young students has been growing more rapidly than the number of older students, but this pattern is expected to shift (table 173 and figure 14). Between 1990 and 2002, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 25 percent. Enrollment of persons 25 and over rose by 13 percent during the same period. From 2002 to 2014, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) with projects a rise of 16 percent in enrollments of persons under 25, and an increase of 19 percent in the number 25 and over.
Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate, graduate, and first professional levels. Undergraduate enrollment generally increased during the 1970s, but dipped slightly between 1983 and 1985 (table 186 and figure 12). From 1985 to 1992, undergraduate enrollment increased each year, rising 18 percent before declining slightly and stabilizing between 1993 and 1996. Undergraduate enrollment rose 15 percent between 1998 and 2002. Graduate enrollment had been steady at about 1.3 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 48 percent between 1985 and 2002 (table 187). After rising very rapidly during the 1970s, enrollment in first professional programs stabilized in the 1980s. First-professional enrollment began rising again in the 1990s and showed an increase of 14 percent between 1992 and 2002 (table 188).
Since 1984, the number of women in graduate schools has exceeded the number of men (table 187). Between 1992 and 2002, the number of male full-time graduate students increased by 20 percent, compared to 61 percent for full-time women. Among part-time graduate students, the number of men increased by 1 percent compared to a 18 percent increase for women.
The proportion of American college students who are minorities has been increasing. In 1976, some 15 percent were minorities, compared with 29 percent in 2002 (table 206). Much of the change can be attributed to rising numbers of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander students. The proportion of Asian or Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent, and the Hispanic proportion rose from 3 percent to 10 percent during that time period. The proportion of Black students fluctuated during most of the early part of the period, before rising slightly to 12 percent in 2002 from 9 percent in 1976. Nonresident aliens for whom race/ethnicity is not reported comprise 4 percent of the total enrollment in 2002.
Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend the larger colleges and universities. In fall 2002, 39 percent of institutions had fewer than 1,000 students; however, these campuses enrolled 4 percent of college students (table 214). While 12 percent of the campuses enrolled 10,000 or more students, they accounted for 54 percent of total college enrollment.
Approximately 3.2 million people were employed in colleges and universities in the fall of 2003, including 2.3 million professional and 0.9 million nonprofessional staff (table 224). In the fall of 2003, there were 1.2 million faculty members in degree-granting institutions (table 224 and figure 15), including 0.6 million full-time and 0.5 part-time faculty. The proportion of administrative staff and other non-teaching professional staff rose from 15 percent in 1976 to 25 percent in 2003, while the proportion of nonprofessional staff declined from 42 percent to 29 percent (table 223). The student/staff ratio at colleges and universities dropped from 5.4 in 1976 to 5.0 in 2003 (table 223). During the same time period, the student/faculty ratio dropped from 16.6 to 15.5.
Colleges differ in their practices of employing part-time and full-time staff. In fall 2003, 49 percent of the employees at public 2-year colleges were employed full-time compared with 69 percent at public 4-year colleges and 70 percent at private 4-year colleges (table 224). A higher proportion of the faculty at public 4-year colleges were employed full-time (70 percent) than at private 4-year colleges (54 percent) or public 2-year colleges (32 percent).
About 15 percent of U.S. faculty in colleges and universities were minorities in 2003 (based on a total excluding persons whose race/ethnicity was unknown) (table 225). Six percent of the faculty were Black; 5 percent, Asian/Pacific Islanders; 4 percent, Hispanic; and 0.5 percent, American Indian/Alaska Native. Nearly half of college faculties (47 percent) were White males, while 36 percent were White females. About 17 percent of executive, managerial, and administrative staffs were minorities in 2003, compared to about 31 percent of the nonprofessional staff. The proportion of minority staffs at public 4-year colleges (22 percent) was similar to the proportion at private 4-year colleges (21 percent).
The proportion of time that full-time instructional faculty and staff spent teaching averaged 57 percent in 1998 (table 229). For the remaining faculty time, research and scholarship accounted for 15 percent of the time; professional growth, 4 percent; administration, 14 percent; outside consulting, 3 percent; and service and nonteaching activities, 7 percent.
College faculty generally suffered losses in the purchasing power of their salaries from 1972–73 to 1980–81, when average salaries fell 17 percent after adjustment for inflation (table 236). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1993–94 and 2003–04, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average about 4 percent higher than in 1972–73, after adjustment for inflation. Average salaries for men in 2003–04 ($67,509) were higher than the average for women ($55,425), but women’s salaries have increased at a slightly faster rate (9 vs. 7 percent) since 1993–94.
The proportion of faculty with tenure has declined slightly in recent years. About 50 percent of full time instructional faculty had tenure in 2003–04 compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 243). A difference existed between the proportion of men and women with tenure. Fifty-six percent of men compared to 41 percent of women had tenure in 2003–04. About 53 percent of the instructional faculty at public institutions had tenure, compared to 45 percent of faculty at private institutions.
During the 2003–04 academic year, 4,236 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate’s degree level or above. These included 2,530 4 year colleges and universities, and 1,706 2 year colleges (table 245). Institutions awarding various degrees in 2002–03 numbered 2,612 for associate’s degrees, 2,070 for bachelor’s degrees, 1,546 for master's degrees, and 557 for doctor’s degrees (table 256).
Larger numbers of people are completing college. Between 1992–93 and 2002–03, the number of associate’s, bachelor's, master's, first-professional, and doctor's degrees rose (table 247). Associate’s degrees increased 23 percent, bachelor's degrees increased 16 percent, master's degrees increased 39 percent, and doctor's degrees increased 9 percent during this period. The number of first-professional degrees was 7 percent higher in 2002–03 than it was in 1992–93.
Since the mid 1980s, more women than men have earned associate’s, bachelor's, and master's degrees (table 247). Also, the number of women receiving all types of degrees has increased at a faster rate than for men. Between 1992–93 and 2002–03 the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to men increased by 8 percent, while those awarded to women rose by 23 percent.
Of the 1,349,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2002–03, the largest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (294,000), social sciences (143,000), and education (106,000) (table 250). At the master's degree level, the largest fields were education (147,000) and business (128,000) (table 251). The largest fields at the doctor's degree level were education (6,800), engineering (5,300), biological/life sciences (5,000), and psychology (4,800) (table 252).
The pattern of bachelor's degrees by field of study has shifted significantly in recent years. While the number of degrees increased 16 percent overall between 1992–93 and 2002–03, in some fields such as engineering and engineering technologies, and mathematics, the 2002–03 figures are lower than in 1992-93 (table 250 and figure 16). However, there is some evidence that these trends have shifted. Engineering and engineering technologies declined 5 percent between 1992–93 and 1997–98, but rose 4 percent between 1997–98 and 2002–03. The number of mathematics degrees declined by 18 percent between 1992–93 and 1997–98, but also rose 6 percent between 1997–98 and 2002–03. In contrast, some technical fields have increased. After an increase of 13 percent between 1992–93 and 1997–98, the number of degrees in computer and information sciences grew 106 percent between 1997–98 and 2002–03. The numbers in some science fields declined between 1997–98 and 2002–03. The number of degrees in biological/biomedical sciences declined 8 percent and the number of degrees in the physical sciences declined by 7 percent. Other sizable fields (over 5,000 degrees) with increases over 20 percent between 1997–98 and 2002–03 included: parks, recreation, and leisure studies; communications and journalism; visual and performing arts; theological studies/religious vocations; business; philosophy and religion; and liberal arts and sciences.
Fifty-eight percent of the students who enrolled in a 4-year college as first-time freshmen in 1995–96 had completed a bachelor’s degree by 2001 (table 311). About 7 percent of students had completed a certificate or associate’s degree, 14 percent were still enrolled, and 21 percent were no longer working towards a bachelor’s degree.
For the 2003–04 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $9,246 at public colleges and $24,748 at private colleges (table 313). Between 1993–94 and 2003–04, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public colleges rose by 28 percent, and prices at private colleges increased by 25 percent, after adjustment for inflation (tables 35 and 313).
Trend data show small increases in the expenditures per student at public 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities in the late 1980s and larger increases during the 1990s (table 343). After an adjustment for inflation at colleges and universities, current fund expenditures per student at public colleges rose about 5 percent between 1985–86 and 1990–91, and another 28 percent between 1990–91 and 2000–01.
Scholarships and fellowships (which accounted for 6 percent of expenditures at public institutions) rose more rapidly than most other types of college educational and general expenditures (e.g., instruction expenditures, which accounted for 34 percent of expenditures at public institutions). At public universities, between 1990–91 and 2000–01, inflation adjusted scholarship and fellowship expenditures per full time equivalent student rose 76 percent compared with 17 percent for instruction expenditures per student (table 347). At other public 4-year institutions during the same period, scholarship and fellowship costs per student rose 147 percent, and the instruction costs rose by 19 percent (table 348).
1 Title IV programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, provide financial aid to post-secondary students.