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Fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased 26 percent between 1997 and 2007. Fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions was 8 percent higher in 2017 (19.8 million) than in 2007 (18.3 million). The overall change between 2007 and 2017 reflects an increase of 15 percent between 2007 and 2010, followed by a decrease of 6 percent between 2010 and 2017.

Similarly, the number of full-time students was higher in 2010 than 2007, but then fell 8 percent from 2010 to 2017. The number of part-time students rose 15 percent from 2007 to 2011, and then fell 4 percent from 2011 to 2017.

The number of female students was 7 percent higher in 2017 than in 2007, while the number of male students was 10 percent higher. Although male enrollment increased by a larger percentage than female enrollment between 2007 and 2017, the majority (57 percent) of students in 2017 were female. Male and female enrollments were both higher in 2017 than in 2007, but there were increases during the early part of this period followed by decreases during the most recent part of the period (a decrease of 5 percent for males and 6 percent for females from 2010 to 2017).

In addition to the students enrolled in degree-granting institutions, about 373,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible postsecondary institutions in fall 2017. 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.

Between fall 2007 and fall 2017, the percentage increase in the number of students enrolled in degree-granting institutions was higher for students under age 25 than for older students; and this pattern is expected to continue in the coming years. The enrollment of students under age 25 was 11 percent higher in 2017 than in 2007, while the enrollment of those age 25 and over was 5 percent higher. NCES projects that enrollment for students under age 25 will be 6 percent higher in 2028 than in 2017, while the enrollment of students age 25 and over will be 2 percent lower.

Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate and postbaccalaureate levels. Undergraduate enrollment increased 47 percent between fall 1970 and fall 1983, when it reached 10.8 million. 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. Undergraduate enrollment increased every year between 1998 and 2007. Undergraduate enrollment was 7 percent higher in 2017 (16.8 million) than in 2007 (15.6 million). This overall change reflects a 16 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment between 2007 and 2010 (when undergraduate enrollment reached 18.1 million), followed by a 7 percent decrease between 2010 and 2017. Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased 34 percent between 1970 and 1984, with most of this increase occurring in the early and mid-1970s. Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased from 1985 to 2017, rising a total of 82 percent. During the last decade of this period, between 2007 and 2017, postbaccalaureate enrollment rose 14 percent, from 2.6 million to 3.0 million. Unlike undergraduate enrollment, which was lower in 2017 than in 2010, postbaccalaureate enrollment was higher in 2017 than in 2010.

Since fall 1988, the number of female students in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of male students. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 17 percent, compared with a 21 percent increase in the number of full-time female postbaccalaureate students. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males enrolled in 2017 was 5 percent higher than in 2007, while the number of females was 8 percent higher.

The percentage of American college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Black has been increasing. From fall 1976 to fall 2017, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 19 percent of all U.S. residents enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, and the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 percent. The percentage of Black students increased from 10 percent in 1976 to 14 percent in 2017, but the 2017 percentage reflects a decrease since 2011, when Black students made up 15 percent of all enrolled U.S. residents. The percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students in 2017 (0.7 percent) was about the same as in 1976 (0.7 percent). During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 56 percent. About 4 percent of students in 2017 were of Two or more races. Race/ethnicity is not reported for nonresident aliens, who made up 5 percent of total enrollment in 2017.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2018 (NCES 2020-009), Chapter 3.

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