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Digest of Education Statistics: 2013
Digest of Education Statistics: 2013

NCES 2015-011
May 2015

Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education includes academic, career and technical, and continuing professional education programs after high school. American colleges and universities and career/technical institutions offer a diverse array of postsecondary educational experiences. For example, a community college normally offers the first 2 years of a standard college curriculum as well as a selection of terminal career and technical education programs. A university typically offers a full undergraduate course of study leading to a bachelor's degree, as well as programs leading to advanced degrees. A specialized career/technical institution offers training programs of varying lengths 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 5.

Enrollment

Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 15 percent between 1992 and 2002 (table 303.10 and figure 12). Between 2002 and 2012, enrollment increased 24 percent, from 16.6 million to 20.6 million. Much of the growth between 2002 and 2012 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 28 percent, while the number of part-time students rose 19 percent. During the same time period, the number of females rose 25 percent, while the number of males rose 24 percent. Enrollment increases can be affected both by population growth and by rising rates of enrollment. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 28.5 million to 31.4 million, an increase of 10 percent (table 101.10), and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 37 percent in 2002 to 41 percent in 2012 (table 302.60). In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 504,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2012 (table 303.20). 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 generally increased (table 304.10 and figure 13). From 2007 to 2012, when U.S. enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 13 percent overall, all 50 states experienced enrollment increases, with only the District of Columbia having a decrease (22 percent). However, enrollment increases varied from state to state. The largest increase was in Iowa (41 percent), followed by West Virginia (39 percent) and Idaho (37 percent). Three other states had increases of 25 percent or more. Thirty states had increases of between 10 percent and 25 percent, and 14 states had increases of less than 10 percent.

In recent years, the percentage increase in the number of students age 25 and over who enrolled in degree-granting institutions has been similar to the percentage increase in the number of younger students, but the rate of increase is expected to be higher for students age 25 and over than for younger students in the coming years (table 303.40 and figure 14). Between 2000 and 2012, the enrollment of students under age 25 and the enrollment of those age 25 and over both increased by 35 percent. From 2012 to 2023, however, NCES projects the rate of increase for students under age 25 to be 12 percent, compared with 20 percent for students age 25 and over.

Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate and postbaccalaureate levels. Undergraduate enrollment increased 47 percent between 1970 and 1983, when it reached 10.8 million (table 303.70). Undergraduate enrollment dipped to 10.6 million in 1984 and 1985, but then increased each year from 1985 to 1992, rising 18 percent before stabilizing between 1992 and 1998. Between 2002 and 2012, undergraduate enrollment rose 24 percent overall, from 14.3 million to 17.7 million; however, undergraduate enrollment in 2012 was lower than in 2010 (18.1 million). Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased 34 percent between 1970 and 1984, with most of this increase occurring in the early 1970s (table 303.80). Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased from 1985 to 2012, rising a total of 76 percent. During the last decade of this period, between 2002 and 2012, postbaccalaureate enrollment rose 24 percent, from 2.4 million to 2.9 million.

Since 1988, the number of females in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of males. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 28 percent, compared with a 42 percent increase in the number of full-time female postbaccalaureate students. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males increased by 8 percent and the number of females increased by 13 percent.

Eleven percent of undergraduates in both 2007–08 and 2011–12 reported having a disability (table 311.10). In 2011–12, some 44 percent of undergraduates with disabilities were male and 56 percent were female, about the same percentages as for undergraduates without 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 2011–12. For example, Black students made up a larger percentage of undergraduates reporting disabilities than of undergraduates without disabilities (18 percent vs. 16 percent). Undergraduates age 30 and over made up a larger percentage of those reporting disabilities than of those not reporting disabilities (36 percent vs. 24 percent). A larger percentage of undergraduates who had dependents reported disabilities than of those not reporting disabilities (33 percent vs. 27 percent). Also, veterans made up a larger percentage of undergraduates with disabilities than of undergraduates without disabilities (7 percent vs. 3 percent).

The percentage of American college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native has been increasing (table 306.10). From 1976 to 2012, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 15 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 percent to 15 percent, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students rose from 0.7 to 0.9 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 60 percent.

Of 20.6 million students enrolled in fall 2012, some 14 percent took at least one distance education course as part of their program that included a mix of in-person and distance education classes (table 311.15). In addition, about 13 percent of students took their college program exclusively through distance education classes. The remaining 74 percent of students took no distance education classes. About 8 percent of students at public institutions took their coursework exclusively through distance education courses, in comparison to 12 percent of students at private nonprofit institutions and 51 percent of students at private for-profit institutions.

Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend larger colleges and universities. In fall 2012, some 43 percent of institutions had fewer than 1,000 students; however, these campuses enrolled 4 percent of all college students (table 317.40). While 12 percent of campuses enrolled 10,000 or more students, they accounted for 60 percent of total college enrollment.

In 2012, the five postsecondary institutions with the highest enrollment were University of Phoenix, Online Campus, with 256,400 students; Ivy Tech Community College, with 100,300 students; Ashford University, with 77,700 students; Liberty University, with 74,400 students; and Arizona State University, with 73,400 students (table 312.10).

Faculty, Staff, and Salaries

Approximately 3.8 million people were employed in colleges and universities in fall 2011, including 2.9 million professional and 0.9 million nonprofessional staff (table 314.20). In fall 2011, there were 1.5 million faculty members in degree-granting institutions, including 0.8 million full-time and 0.8 million part-time faculty. From 1991 to 2011, the proportion of staff classified as professionals—including executive, administrative, and managerial professionals; faculty; graduate assistants; and other professionals—rose from 63 percent to 76 percent (table 314.20). The proportion of staff who were executive, administrative, and managerial professionals was 6 percent in 1991 and 6 percent in 2011. The proportion of staff who were faculty rose from 33 percent in 1991 to 40 percent in 2011. The proportion of other professionals not engaged in teaching rose from 17 percent in 1991 to 21 percent in 2011. The proportion of nonprofessional staff—including technical and paraprofessional, clerical and secretarial, skilled crafts, and service and maintenance staff—declined from 37 percent to 24 percent. The full-time-equivalent (FTE) student/FTE staff ratio at colleges and universities increased from 4.9 in 1991 to 5.4 in 2011 (table 314.10 and figure 15). The FTE student/FTE faculty ratio was lower in 2011 (15.6) than in 1991 (16.4).

Colleges and universities differ in their practices of employing part-time and full-time staff. In fall 2011, some 47 percent of the employees at public 2-year colleges were employed full time, compared with 67 percent at public 4-year colleges and universities, 70 percent at private nonprofit 4-year colleges and universities, and 61 percent at private nonprofit 2-year colleges (table 314.30). A higher percentage of the faculty at public 4-year colleges and universities were employed full time (66 percent) than at private nonprofit 4-year colleges and universities (56 percent), private for-profit 4-year colleges and universities (14 percent), private nonprofit 2-year colleges (43 percent), private for-profit 2-year colleges (40 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 314.20). Between 2001 and 2011, the number of full-time staff increased by 19 percent, compared to an increase of 35 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 (54 percent) and graduate assistants (36 percent) during this time period.

In fall 2011, some 7 percent of college and university faculty were Black (based on a faculty count that excludes persons whose race/ethnicity was unknown), 7 percent were Asian, 5 percent were Hispanic, 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native, 1 percent were of two or more races, and less than 1 percent were Pacific Islander (table 314.40). About 80 percent of all faculty with known race/ethnicity were White; 42 percent were White males and 38 percent were White females. Staff who were Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, or of two or more races made up about 20 percent of executive, administrative, and managerial staff in 2011 and about 34 percent of nonprofessional staff. The proportion of total staff made up of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and persons of two or more races was similar at public 4-year colleges (26 percent), private 4-year colleges (24 percent), and public 2-year colleges (24 percent), but the proportion at private 2-year colleges (37 percent) was higher.

On average, full-time faculty and instructional staff spent 58 percent of their time teaching in 2003 (table 315.30). 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 2012–13 dollars, average salaries for faculty on 9-month contracts declined by 16 percent during the period from 1970–71 ($74,000) to 1980–81 ($62,200) (table 316.10). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1990–91 and 2012–13, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average salary in 2012–13 ($77,300) that was about 4 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. The average salary in constant 2012–13 dollars for males in 2002–03 and 2012–13 was about the same ($84,000). Also, for females, the average salary in 2012–13 ($69,100) was similar to the salary in 2002–03 ($68,700). In 2012–13, average salaries were about 22 percent higher for males than for females ($84,000 versus $69,100).

The percentage of faculty with tenure has declined. Of those faculty at institutions with tenure systems, about 49 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure in 2011–12, compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 316.80). Also, the percentage of institutions with tenure systems in 2011–12 (45 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 317.10), relatively few of which have tenure systems (1.3 percent in 2011–12) (table 316.80). At institutions with tenure systems, there were differences between males and females in the percentage of full-time instructional faculty having tenure. Fifty-four percent of males had tenure in 2011–12, compared with 41 percent of females. In 2011–12, about 51 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure at public institutions with tenure systems, compared with 44 percent at private nonprofit institutions with tenure systems and 31 percent at private for-profit institutions with tenure systems.

Degrees

During the 2012–13 academic year, 4,726 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate's degree level or above (table 317.10). These included 1,623 public institutions, 1,652 private nonprofit institutions, and 1,451 private for-profit institutions. Of the 4,726 institutions, 3,026 were 4-year institutions that awarded degrees at the bachelor's or higher level, and 1,700 were 2-year institutions that offered associate's degrees as their highest award. Institutions awarding various degrees in 2011–12 numbered 2,968 for associate's degrees, 2,533 for bachelor's degrees, 1,881 for master's degrees, and 885 for doctor's degrees (table 318.60).

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 2001–02 and 2011–12, the number of associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees that were conferred rose (table 318.10). The doctor's degree total includes most degrees formerly classified as first-professional, such as M.D. (medical), D.D.S. (dental), and J.D. (law) degrees. During this period, the number of associate's degrees increased by 71 percent, the number of bachelor's degrees increased by 39 percent, the number of master's degrees increased by 55 percent, and the number of doctor's degrees increased by 42 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 associate's, master's, and doctor's degrees awarded to females has increased at a faster rate than the number awarded to males. Between 2001–02 and 2011–12, the number of associate's degrees awarded to females increased by 75 percent, while the number awarded to males increased by 65 percent. The number of females earning master's degrees rose 59 percent during this period, while the number of males earning master's degrees rose 49 percent. The number of females earning doctor's degrees increased 54 percent, while the number of males earning doctor's degrees increased 32 percent. Between 2001–02 and 2011–12, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to males increased 39 percent and the number awarded to females increased by 38 percent. In addition to degrees awarded at the associate's and higher levels, 988,000 certificates were awarded by postsecondary institutions participating in federal Title IV financial aid programs in 2011–12 (table 320.20).

Of the 1,791,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2011–12, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (367,000), social sciences and history (179,000), health professions and related programs (163,000), psychology (109,000), and education (106,000) (table 322.10). At the master's degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (192,000) and education (178,000) (table 323.10). At the doctor's degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of health professions and related programs (62,100), legal professions and studies (46,800), education (10,000), engineering (8,700), biological and biomedical sciences (7,900), psychology (5,900), and physical sciences and science technologies (5,400) (table 324.10).

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 39 percent overall between 2001–02 and 2011–12, there was substantial variation among the different fields of study, as well as shifts in the patterns of change during this time period (table 322.10 and figure 16). For example, the number of bachelor's degrees conferred in agriculture and natural resources was 1 percent lower in 2006–07 than in 2001–02, but then rose 34 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12. Also, the number of degrees conferred in computer and information sciences was 16 percent lower in 2006–07 than in 2001–02, but the number in 2011–12 was 12 percent higher than in 2006–07. In contrast, the number of bachelor's degrees conferred in the combined fields of engineering and engineering technologies increased 10 percent between 2001–02 and 2006–07, and then increased a further 20 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12. In some other major fields, the number of bachelor's degrees also increased by somewhat higher percentages in the second half of the 10-year period than in the first half. For example, the number of degrees conferred in physical sciences and science technologies increased by 19 percent between 2001–02 and 2006–07 and then by 25 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12. The number of degrees conferred in health professions and related programs increased by 40 percent between 2001–02 and 2006–07 and then by 61 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12. Also, the number of degrees conferred in public administration and social services increased by 19 percent between 2001–02 and 2006–07 and then by 28 percent between 2006–07 and 2011–12. Other fields with sizable numbers of degrees (over 5,000 in 2011–12) that showed increases of 30 percent or more between 2006–07 and 2011–12 included parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies (42 percent); multi/interdisciplinary studies (42 percent); and homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting (37 percent).

Among first-time students who were seeking a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2006, 39 percent completed a bachelor's degree or its equivalent at that institution within 4 years, while 55 percent did so within 5 years, and 59 percent did so within 6 years (table 326.10). These graduation rates were 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 2006. Graduation rates were higher at private nonprofit institutions than at public or private for-profit institutions. For example, the 6-year graduation rate for the 2006 cohort at private nonprofit institutions was 66 percent, compared with 57 percent at public institutions and 32 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 in the 2006 cohort was 71 percent, compared with 67 percent for students of two or more races, 63 percent for Whites, 52 percent for Hispanics, 49 percent for Pacific Islanders, 40 percent for Blacks, and 40 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives.

Finances and Financial Aid

For the 2012–13 academic year, annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $15,022 at public institutions, $39,173 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,158 at private for-profit institutions (table 330.10). Between 2002–03 and 2012–13, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 39 percent, and prices at private nonprofit institutions rose 27 percent, after adjustment for inflation. The price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at private for-profit institutions decreased 7 percent between 2002–03 and 2012–13, after adjustment for inflation.

In 2011–12, about 84 percent of full-time undergraduate students received financial aid (grants, loans, work-study, or aid of multiple types) (table 331.10). About 73 percent of full-time undergraduates received federal financial aid in 2011–12, and 57 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
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 2011–12, total revenue was $317 billion at public institutions, $162 billion at private nonprofit institutions, and $27 billion at private for-profit institutions (tables 333.10, 333.40, and 333.55 and figures 17, 18, and 19). 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 nonprofit and for-profit institutions in 2011–12 (39 and 89 percent, respectively). At public institutions, the share of revenue from tuition and fees (21 percent) was higher than that from state appropriations (19 percent) in 2011–12. Tuition and fees constituted the largest revenue category for private nonprofit 2- and 4-year institutions, private for-profit 2- and 4-year institutions, and public 4-year institutions. For public 2-year institutions, tuition and fees constituted the fourth largest revenue category.

In 2011–12, average total expenditures per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student at public degree-granting colleges were $27,900 (table 334.10). The 2011–12 total expenditures per FTE student were about 1 percent higher than in 2005–06, after adjustment for inflation. In 2011–12, public 4-year colleges had average total expenditures per FTE student of $37,400, compared with $12,800 at public 2-year colleges. At private nonprofit colleges, total expenditures per FTE student rose 5 percent between 2005–06 and 2011–12, after adjustment for inflation (table 334.30). In 2011–12, total expenditures per FTE student at private nonprofit colleges were $48,200; they averaged $48,500 at 4-year colleges and $18,000 at 2-year colleges (table 334.40). The expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit institutions were $14,300 in 2011–12, which was about 10 percent higher than in 2005–06, after adjustment for inflation (tables 334.50 and 334.60). The difference between average expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit 4-year colleges ($14,100) and private for-profit 2-year colleges ($15,000) was relatively small compared to the differences between 2-year and 4-year public and private nonprofit colleges.

At the end of fiscal year 2012, the market value of the endowment funds of colleges and universities was $425 billion, reflecting an increase of 1 percent compared to the beginning of the fiscal year, when the total was $421 billion (table 333.90). At the end of fiscal year 2012, the 120 colleges with the largest endowments accounted for $316 billion, or about three-fourths of the national total. The five colleges with the largest endowments in 2012 were Harvard University ($31 billion), Yale University ($19 billion), Princeton University ($17 billion), the University of Texas System ($17 billion), and Stanford University ($17 billion).

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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.