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Characteristics of Postsecondary Students
(Last Updated: May 2016)

Some 10.6 million undergraduate students attended 4-year institutions in fall 2014, while 6.7 million attended 2-year institutions. Some 77 percent of undergraduate students at 4-year institutions attended full time, compared with 40 percent at 2-year institutions.

In fall 2014, there were 17.3 million undergraduate students and 2.9 million postbaccalaureate (graduate) students attending degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States. These institutions include 4-year institutions that primarily award bachelor’s or higher degrees, and 2-year institutions that award associate’s degrees and certificates and offer courses that may be creditable toward a bachelor’s degree to be earned at a 4-year institution. Some 10.6 million undergraduate students (61 percent) attended 4-year institutions, while 6.7 million (39 percent) attended 2-year institutions. Of the undergraduate students at 4-year institutions, 8.1 million (77 percent) attended full time. Of the undergraduate students at 2-year institutions, 2.7 million (40 percent) attended full-time and 4.1 million (60 percent) attended part-time.


Figure 1. Percentage of full-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2013

Figure 1. Percentage of full-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2013

NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and the exclusion of students whose age was unknown.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2014, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 303.50.


In fall 2013, a higher percentage of full-time undergraduate students attending public and private nonprofit 4-year institutions were young adults (i.e., under the age of 25) than at comparable 2-year institutions. At public and private nonprofit 4-year institutions, most of the full-time undergraduates (88 and 86 percent, respectively) were young adults. At private for-profit 4-year institutions, however, just 30 percent of full-time students were young adults.

Of the full-time undergraduate students enrolled at public 2-year institutions in 2013, some 73 percent were young adults, 16 percent were ages 25–34, and 11 percent were age 35 and older. At private nonprofit 2-year institutions, 61 percent of full-time students were young adults, 23 percent were ages 25–34, and 16 percent were age 35 and older. At private for-profit 2-year institutions, 47 percent of full-time students were young adults, 32 percent were ages 25–34, and 21 percent were age 35 and older.


Figure 2. Percentage of part-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2013

Figure 2. Percentage of part-time undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student age: Fall 2013

NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and the exclusion of students whose age was unknown.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2014, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 303.50.


In contrast to the pattern among full-time students, in fall 2013 a lower percentage of part-time undergraduate students attending public and private nonprofit 4-year institutions were young adults than at comparable 2-year institutions. Young adults made up 52 percent of part-time undergraduates attending public 4-year institutions, 34 percent attending private nonprofit institutions, and 22 percent attending private for-profit institutions. Students ages 25–34 and students age 35 and older accounted for nearly half of the part-time enrollment at public 4-year institutions, nearly two-thirds of the part-time enrollment at private nonprofit 4-year institutions, and over three-quarters of the part-time enrollment at private for-profit 4-year institutions.

Of part-time students enrolled at public 2-year institutions in 2013, some 55 percent were young adults, 24 percent were ages 25–34, and 21 percent were age 35 and older. At private nonprofit 2-year institutions, 42 percent of part-time students were young adults, 29 percent were age 25–34, and 28 percent were age 35 and older. At private for-profit 2-year institutions, 35 percent of part-time students were young adults, 36 percent were ages 25–34, and 28 percent were age 35 and older.


Figure 3. Percentage distribution of U.S. resident undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student race/ethnicity: Fall 2014

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of U.S. resident undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional level and control and student race/ethnicity: Fall 2014

# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2014, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 306.50.


Attendance patterns for undergraduate students differed by race/ethnicity in fall 2014. Sixty-six percent of undergraduate students (full- and part-time) at private nonprofit 4-year institutions in 2014 were White, which was higher than the percentage of White students at public 4-year institutions (61 percent) and at private for-profit 4-year institutions (45 percent). A higher percentage of the students at private for-profit 4-year institutions were Black (29 percent) than at private nonprofit 4-year institutions (13 percent) and public 4-year institutions (12 percent). A higher percentage of the students at public and private for-profit 4-year institutions were Hispanic (16 and 15 percent, respectively) than at private nonprofit 4-year institutions (11 percent). The percentage of undergraduate students at public 4-year institutions who were Asian (7 percent) was higher than the percentages at private nonprofit institutions (6 percent) and at private for-profit institutions (3 percent).

In 2014, the percentages of both White and Asian undergraduate students at public 2-year institutions (52 and 6 percent, respectively) were higher than the percentages at private nonprofit 2-year institutions (50 and 3 percent, respectively) and at private for-profit 2-year institutions (38 and 4 percent, respectively). In contrast, the percentage of students at private for-profit 2-year institutions who were Black (28 percent) was higher than the percentages at private nonprofit 2-year institutions (27 percent) and at public 2-year institutions (15 percent). The percentage of students at private for-profit 2-year institutions who were Hispanic (24 percent) was higher than the percentages at public 2-year institutions (23 percent) and at private nonprofit 2-year institutions (14 percent).


Figure 4. Percentage of full-time and part-time postbaccalaureate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional control and student age: Fall 2013

Figure 4. Percentage of full-time and part-time postbaccalaureate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional control and student age: Fall 2013

NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding and the exclusion of students whose age was unknown.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2014, Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 303.50.


In fall 2013, some 48 percent of graduate students attended public institutions, 42 percent attended private nonprofit institutions, and 10 percent attended private for-profit institutions. In 2013, the majority of full-time graduate students at public institutions were young adults (37 percent) and adults ages 25–29 (37 percent); the same was true at private nonprofit institutions (32 percent were young adults and 36 percent were adults ages 25–29). In contrast, full-time students at private for-profit institutions were older: 34 percent were ages 30–39 and 40 percent were age 40 and older. Among part-time graduate students, adults age 30 and older comprised 79 percent of the students at private for-profit institutions, 62 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 60 percent at public institutions.


Figure 5. Percentage distribution of U.S. resident postbaccalaureate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional control and student race/ethnicity: Fall 2014

Figure 5. Percentage distribution of U.S. resident postbaccalaureate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by institutional control and student race/ethnicity: Fall 2014

# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2015, Fall Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 306.50.


Attendance patterns for graduate students also differed by race/ethnicity. At public institutions in fall 2014, some 69 percent of graduate students were White, compared with 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions and 46 percent at private for-profit institutions. Thirty-six percent of graduate students at private for-profit institutions were Black, compared with 13 percent at private nonprofit institutions and 11 percent at public institutions. Hispanic students accounted for 9 percent of graduate enrollment across all institutional controls. Asian students accounted for 9 percent of graduate enrollment at private nonprofit institutions, 7 percent at public institutions, and 4 percent at private for-profit institutions.


Figure 6. Percentage of 16- to 24-year-old college students who were employed, by attendance status and hours worked per week: October 2000 through October 2014

Figure 6. Percentage of 16- to 24-year-old college students who were employed, by attendance status and hours worked per week: October 2000 through October 2014

NOTE: Students were classified as full-time if they were taking at least 12 hours of undergraduate classes (or at least 9 hours of graduate classes) during an average school week and as part-time if they were taking fewer hours.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October 2000 through October 2014. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 503.20.


Based on the Current Population Survey, 41 percent of full-time college students 16 to 24 years old and 80 percent of part-time college students 16 to 24 years old were employed in October 2014. The percentage of students who worked 35 or more hours per week declined from 9 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2014 for full-time students and from 47 to 39 percent for part-time students. The percentage of full-time students who worked 20 to 34 hours per week declined from 22 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2014, while the percentage of part-time students who worked 20 to 34 hours per week was not measurably different in 2014 (27 percent) than it was in 2000. The percentage of full-time students who worked less than 20 hours per week declined from 20 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2014. In contrast, the percentage of part-time students who worked less than 20 hours per week increased from 9 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2014.


Glossary Terms

Data Sources

Current Population Survey (CPS), Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)