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Digest of Education Statistics: 2011
Digest of Education Statistics: 2011

NCES 2012-001
May 2012

Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education includes academic, career and technical, and continuing professional education programs after high school. American colleges and universities and technical and vocational institutions offer a diverse array of postsecondary educational experiences. 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 programs leading to advanced degrees. Vocational and technical institutions offer training programs that are designed to prepare students for specific careers.

This chapter provides an overview of the latest statistics on postsecondary education, including data on various types of postsecondary institutions and programs. However, to maintain comparability over time, most of the data in the Digest are for degree-granting institutions, which are defined as postsecondary institutions that grant an associate's or higher degree and whose students are eligible to participate in the Title IV federal financial aid programs.1 Degree-granting institutions include almost all 2- and 4-year colleges and universities; they exclude institutions offering only career and technical programs of less than 2 years' duration and continuing education programs. The degree-granting institution classification currently used by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) includes approximately the same set of institutions as the higher education institution classification that was used by NCES prior to 1996–97.2 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. Further information on survey methodologies is presented in Appendix A: Guide to Sources and in the publications cited in the table source notes. For information on adults' participation in nonpostsecondary education, such as General Educational Development (GED) or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, see chapter 7.


Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000 (table 198 and figure 12). Between 2000 and 2010, enrollment increased 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21.0 million. Much of the growth between 2000 and 2010 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 45 percent, while the number of part-time students rose 26 percent. During the same time period, the number of females rose 39 percent, while the number of males rose 35 percent. Enrollment increases can be affected both by population growth and by rising rates of enrollment. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 27.3 million to 30.7 million, an increase of 12 percent (table 200), and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 35 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2010 (table 213). In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 539,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2009 (table 196). These institutions are postsecondary institutions that do not award associate's or higher degrees; they include, for example, institutions that offer only career and technical programs of less than 2 years' duration.

Like enrollment in degree-granting institutions for the United States as a whole, the number of students enrolled in degree-granting institutions located within individual states has been on the rise (table 216 and figure 13). From 2005 to 2010, when U.S. enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 20 percent overall, all 50 states experienced enrollment increases, with only the District of Columbia having a decrease. However, enrollment increases varied from state to state. The largest increase was in Iowa (68 percent), followed by West Virginia (53 percent) and Arizona (46 percent). Nine other states had increases of 25 percent or more. Six states had increases of less than 10 percent.

In recent years, the percentage increase in the number of students age 25 and over has been larger than the percentage increase in the number of younger students, and this pattern is expected to continue (table 200 and figure 14). Between 2000 and 2010, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 34 percent. Enrollment of students 25 and over rose 42 percent during the same period. From 2010 to 2020, NCES projects a rise of 11 percent in enrollments of students under 25, and a rise of 20 percent in enrollments of students 25 and over.

Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate and postbaccalaureate levels. Undergraduate enrollment generally increased during the 1970s, but dipped from 10.8 million to 10.6 million between 1983 and 1985 (table 214). From 1985 to 1992, undergraduate enrollment increased each year, rising 18 percent before stabilizing between 1992 and 1998. Undergraduate enrollment rose 37 percent between 2000 and 2010. Postbaccalaureate enrollment had been steady at about 1.6 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose 78 percent between 1985 and 2010 (table 215).

Since 1988, the number of females in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of males. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 38 percent, compared with a 62 percent increase in the number of full-time female postbaccalaureate students. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males increased by 17 percent and the number of females increased by 26 percent.

Eleven percent of undergraduates in both 2003–04 and 2007–08 reported having a disability (table 242). In 2007–08, the percentages of undergraduates who were male (43 percent) and female (57 percent) were the same for undergraduates reporting disabilities as for those not reporting disabilities. There were some differences in characteristics such as race/ethnicity, age, dependency status, and veteran status between undergraduates reporting disabilities and those without disabilities in 2007–08. For example, White students made up a larger percentage of undergraduates reporting disabilities than of undergraduates without disabilities (66 percent vs. 62 percent). Undergraduates under age 24 made up a smaller percentage of those reporting disabilities than of those not reporting disabilities (54 percent vs. 60 percent). A smaller percentage of undergraduates who reported disabilities than of those without disabilities were dependents (47 percent vs. 53 percent). About 4 percent of undergraduates who reported disabilities were veterans, compared with 3 percent of those who did not report disabilities.

The percentage of American college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Black has been increasing (table 237). From 1976 to 2010, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 3 percent to 13 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent, and the percentage of Black students rose from 9 percent to 14 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 83 percent to 61 percent. Race/ethnicity is not reported for nonresident aliens, who made up 2 percent and 3 percent of total enrollment in 1976 and 2010, respectively.

Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend larger colleges and universities. In fall 2010, some 40 percent of institutions had fewer than 1,000 students; however, these campuses enrolled 4 percent of all college students (table 248). While 13 percent of campuses enrolled 10,000 or more students, they accounted for 59 percent of total college enrollment.

In 2010, the five postsecondary institutions with the highest enrollment were University of Phoenix, Online Campus, with 308,000 students; Kaplan University, Davenport Campus, with 78,000 students; Arizona State University, with 70,400 students; Ashford University, with 63,100 students; and Miami-Dade College, with 61,700 students (table 249).

Faculty, Staff, and Salaries

Approximately 3.7 million people were employed in colleges and universities in fall 2009, including 2.8 million professional and 0.9 million nonprofessional staff (table 259). In fall 2009, there were 1.4 million faculty members in degree-granting institutions, including 0.7 million full-time and 0.7 million part-time faculty. The proportion of staff who were executive, administrative, and managerial professionals was 6 percent in 2009, compared to 5 percent in 1976 (table 258). The proportion of other professionals not engaged in teaching rose from 10 percent in 1976 to 21 percent in 2009, while the proportion of nonprofessional staff (including technical and paraprofessional, clerical and secretarial, skilled crafts, and service and maintenance staff) declined from 42 percent to 25 percent. The full-time-equivalent (FTE) student/FTE staff ratio at colleges and universities was about the same in 2009 as in 1976 (5.4 in both years) (table 258 and figure 15). The FTE student/FTE faculty ratio was lower in 2009 (16.0) than in 1976 (16.6).

Colleges and universities differ in their practices of employing part-time and full-time staff. In fall 2009, some 47 percent of the employees at public 2-year colleges were employed full time, compared with 68 percent at public 4-year colleges and universities, 67 percent at private 4-year colleges and universities, and 65 percent at private 2-year colleges (table 259). A higher percentage of the faculty at public 4-year colleges and universities were employed full time (68 percent) than at private 4-year colleges and universities (48 percent), private 2-year colleges (44 percent), or public 2-year colleges (30 percent). In general, the number of full-time staff has been growing at a slower rate than the number of part-time staff (table 257). Between 1999 and 2009, the number of full-time staff increased by 24 percent, compared to an increase of 39 percent in the number of part-time staff. Most of the increase in the part-time staff was due to the increase in the number of part-time faculty (63 percent) and graduate assistants (43 percent) during this time period.

In fall 2009, some 7 percent of college and university faculty were Black (based on a faculty count that excludes persons whose race/ethnicity was unknown), 6 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 4 percent were Hispanic, and 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native (table 260). About 79 percent of all faculty with known race/ethnicity were White; 42 percent were White males and 37 percent were White females. Staff who were Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native made up about 19 percent of executive, administrative, and managerial staff in 2009 and about 33 percent of nonprofessional staff. The proportion of total staff made up of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians/Alaska Natives was similar at public 4-year colleges (23 percent), private 4-year colleges (22 percent), and public 2-year colleges (23 percent), but the proportion at private 2-year colleges (31 percent) was slightly higher.

On average, full-time faculty and instructional staff spent 58 percent of their time teaching in 2003 (table 265). Research and scholarship accounted for 20 percent of their time, and 22 percent was spent on other activities (administration, professional growth, etc.).

Faculty salaries generally lost purchasing power during the 1970s. In constant 2009–10 dollars, average salaries for faculty on 9-month contracts declined by 16 percent during the period from 1970–71 ($69,300) to 1980–81 ($58,300) (table 271). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1989–90 and 2010–11, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average salary in 2010–11 ($74,000 in constant 2009–10 dollars) that was about 7 percent higher than the average salary in 1970–71. The average salary for males was higher than the average salary for females in all years for which data are available. Between 1999–2000 and 2010–11, the average salary in constant 2009–10 dollars for males increased by 4 percent (from $76,900 to $80,300) and the average salary for females increased by 5 percent (from $62,700 to $66,100). In 2010–11, average salaries were about 21 percent higher for males than for females ($67,400 versus $81,900 in current dollars).

The percentage of faculty with tenure has declined in recent years. Of those faculty at institutions with tenure systems, about 49 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure in 2009–10, compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 278). Also, the percentage of institutions with tenure systems in 2009–10 (48 percent) was lower than in 1993–94 (63 percent). Part of this change was due to the expansion in the number of for-profit institutions (table 279), relatively few of which have tenure systems (1.5 percent in 2009–10) (table 278). At institutions with tenure systems, a difference was observed between males and females in the percentage of full-time instructional faculty having tenure. Fifty-five percent of males had tenure in 2009–10, compared with 41 percent of females. About 51 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure at public and private for-profit institutions with tenure systems, compared with 44 percent at private not-for-profit institutions with tenure systems in 2009–10.


During the 2010–11 academic year, 4,599 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate's degree level or above (table 280). These included 1,656 public institutions, 1,630 private not-for-profit institutions, and 1,313 private for-profit institutions. Of the 4,599 institutions, 2,870 were 4-year institutions that awarded degrees at the bachelor's or higher level, and 1,729 were 2-year institutions that offered associate's degrees as their highest award. Institutions awarding various degrees in 2009–10 numbered 2,839 for associate's degrees, 2,403 for bachelor's degrees, 1,823 for master's degrees, and 817 for doctor's degrees (table 293).

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, the number of associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees that were conferred rose (table 283). The doctor's degree total includes most degrees formerly classified as first-professional, such as M.D., D.D.S., and law degrees. During this period, the number of associate's degrees increased by 50 percent, the number of bachelor's degrees increased by 33 percent, the number of master's degrees increased by 50 percent, and the number of doctor's degrees increased by 34 percent. Since the mid-1980s, more females than males have earned associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Beginning in 2005–06, the number of females earning doctor's degrees has exceeded the number of males. Also, the number of females receiving associate's, master's, and doctor's degrees has increased at a faster rate than the number of males. The number of males earning doctor's degrees rose 18 percent between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, while the number of females earning doctor's degrees rose 52 percent. The number of males earning master's degrees during this period rose 40 percent, while the number of females rose 56 percent. Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to males and the number awarded to females both increased by 33 percent. In addition to degrees awarded at the associate's and higher levels, 935,789 certificates were awarded by postsecondary institutions participating in federal Title IV financial aid programs in 2009–10 (table 296).

Of the 1,650,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2009–10, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (358,000); social sciences and history (173,000); health professions and related programs (130,000); and education (101,000) (table 286). At the master's degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of education (182,000) and business (178,000) (table 287). At the doctor's degree level, the greatest number of degrees were conferred in the fields of health professions and related programs (57,700); legal professions and studies (44,600); education (9,200); engineering (7,700); biological and biomedical sciences (7,700); psychology (5,500); and physical sciences and science technologies (5,100) (table 288).

In recent years, the numbers of bachelor's degrees conferred have followed patterns that differed significantly by field of study. While the number of degrees conferred increased by 33 percent overall between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, there was substantial variation among the different fields of study, as well as shifts in the patterns of change during this time period (table 286). The number of bachelor's degrees conferred in the combined fields of engineering and engineering technologies increased 8 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05, and then increased a further 12 percent between 2004–05 and 2009–10 (table 286 and figure 16). In contrast, the number of degrees conferred in health professions and related programs was less than 1 percent lower in 2004–05 than in 1999–2000, but then rose 61 percent between 2004–05 and 2009–10. The number of degrees conferred in biological sciences was 4 percent higher in 2004–05 than in 1999–2000, but then increased by 31 percent between 2004–05 and 2009–10; and the number conferred in physical sciences and science technologies also was 4 percent higher in 2004–05 than in 1999–2000, but then increased by 22 percent between 2004–05 and 2009–10. Some technical fields experienced a contrasting pattern. After an increase of 43 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05, the number of degrees conferred in computer and information sciences decreased by 27 percent between 2004–05 and 2009–10. Other fields with sizable numbers of degrees (over 5,000 in 2004–05) that showed increases of 30 percent or more between 2004–05 and 2009–10 included multi/interdisciplinary studies (30 percent); homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting (42 percent); and parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies (46 percent).

Approximately 58 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2004 completed a bachelor's degree or its equivalent at that institution within 6 years (table 345). This graduation rate was calculated as the total number of completers within the specified time to degree attainment divided by the cohort of students who first enrolled at that institution in 2004. Graduation rates were higher at private not-for-profit institutions than at public or private for-profit institutions. The 6-year graduation rate for the 2004 cohort at private not-for-profit institutions was 65 percent, compared with 56 percent at public institutions and 28 percent at private for-profit institutions. Graduation rates also varied by race/ethnicity. At 4-year institutions overall, the 6-year graduation rate for Asians/Pacific Islanders in the 2004 cohort was 69 percent, compared with 62 percent for Whites, 50 percent for Hispanics, 39 percent for Blacks, and 39 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives.

Finances and Financial Aid

For the 2010–11 academic year, annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $13,600 at public institutions, $36,300 at private not-for-profit institutions, and $23,500 at private for-profit institutions (table 349). Between 2000–01 and 2010–11, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 42 percent, and prices at private not-for-profit institutions rose 31 percent, after adjustment for inflation. The inflation-adjusted price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at private for-profit institutions was 5 percent higher in 2010–11 than in 2000–01.

In 2007–08, about 80 percent of full-time undergraduate students received financial aid (grants, loans, work-study, or aid of multiple types) (table 353). About 63 percent of full-time undergraduates received federal financial aid in 2007–08, and 63 percent received aid from nonfederal sources. (Some students receive aid from both federal and nonfederal sources.) Section 484(r) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, suspends a student's eligibility for Title IV federal financial aid if the student is convicted of certain drug-related offenses that were committed while the student was receiving Title IV aid. About 0.01 percent of postsecondary students had their eligibility to receive aid suspended for 2009–10 (table C).

Table C. Postsecondary students denied access to Title IV financial aid because eligibility was suspended due to a drug-related conviction: 2009–10

Suspension status Number of applications Percentage distribution
Total 19,490,666 100.00
No suspension of eligibility 19,478,370 99.98
Suspension of eligibility    
For part of award year (suspension ends during year) 666 #
For full award year    
Due to conviction 1,751 0.01
Due to failure to report conviction status on aid application form 879 #

#Rounds to zero.
NOTE: It is not possible to determine whether a student who lost eligibility due to a drug conviction otherwise would have received Title IV aid, since there are other reasons why an applicant may not receive aid. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), unpublished data.

In 2009–10, total revenue was $303 billion at public institutions, $169 billion at private not-for-profit institutions, and $25 billion at private for-profit institutions (table 366, 370 , and 372 and figures 17 and 18). The category of student tuition and fees typically accounts for a significant percentage of total revenue and was the largest single revenue source at both private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions in 2009–10 (33 and 91 percent, respectively). At public institutions, the share of revenue from tuition and fees (18 percent) was second to that from state nonoperating revenue appropriations (21 percent). Tuition and fees constituted the largest revenue category for private not-for-profit and private for-profit 2- and 4-year institutions, the second largest category for public 4-year institutions, and the fourth largest category for public 2-year institutions.

In 2009–10, average total expenditures per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student at public degree-granting colleges were $26,200 (table 377). The 2009–10 total expenditures per FTE student were lower than in 2008–09, but about 1 percent higher than in 2003–04, after adjustment for inflation. In 2009–10, public 4-year colleges had average total expenditures per FTE student of $35,700, compared with $11,900 at public 2-year colleges. At private not-for-profit colleges, total expenditures per FTE student rose 6 percent between 2003–04 and 2009–10, after adjustment for inflation (table 379). In 2009–10, total expenditures per FTE student at private not-for-profit colleges were $45,900; they averaged $46,100 at 4-year colleges and $19,000 at 2-year colleges. The expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit institutions were $12,400 in 2009–10, which was about 6 percent lower than in 2003–04, after adjustment for inflation (table 381). The difference between average expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit 4-year colleges ($12,400) and private for-profit 2-year colleges ($12,600) was relatively small compared to the differences between 2-year and 4-year public and private not-for-profit colleges.

As of June 30, 2010, the market value of the endowment funds of colleges and universities was $356 billion, reflecting an increase of 9 percent compared to 2009, when the total was $326 billion (table 376). In 2010, the 120 colleges with the largest endowments accounted for $264 billion, or about three-fourths of the national total. The five colleges with the largest endowments in 2010 were Harvard University ($28 billion), Yale University ($17 billion), Princeton University ($15 billion), Stanford University ($14 billion), and the University of Texas System ($13 billion).


1 Title IV programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, provide financial aid to postsecondary students.
2 Included in the current degree-granting classification are some institutions (primarily 2-year colleges) that were not previously designated as higher education institutions. Excluded from the current degree-granting classification are a few institutions that were previously designated as higher education institutions even though they did not award an associate's or higher degree. The former higher education classification was defined as including institutions that were accredited by an agency or association that was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or recognized directly by the Secretary of Education. The former institutions of higher education offered courses that led to an associate's or higher degree, or were accepted for credit towards a degree.

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