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Digest of Education Statistics: 2006
Digest of Education Statistics: 2006

NCES 2007-017
July 2007

Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education includes an array of diverse educational experiences 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 are defined as postsecondary institutions that grant an associate's or higher degree and are eligible for Title IV federal financial aid.1 Degree-granting institutions include almost all 2- and 4-year colleges and universities; they exclude institutions offering only vocational programs of less than 2 years' duration and continuing education programs. The degree-granting institution classification is very similar to the higher education institution classification that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) used 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 and use of computers by young adults. Further information on survey methodologies is presented in Appendix A: Guide to Sources and in the publications cited in the table source notes.


Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 16 percent between 1985 and 1995 (table 175 and figure 11). Between 1995 and 2005, enrollment increased at a faster rate (23 percent), from 14.3 million to 17.5 million. Much of the growth between 1995 and 2005 was in female enrollment; the number of women enrolled rose 27 percent, while the number of men rose 18 percent. During the same time period, part-time enrollment rose by 9 percent, compared to an increase of 33 percent in full-time enrollment. Enrollment increases may be affected both by population growth and by rising rates of enrollment. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 25.5 million to 29.3 million (table 16), and the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 34 percent to 39 percent (table 189). In addition to the enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 434,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2005 (table 173).

The number of young students has been growing more rapidly than the number of older students, but this pattern is expected to shift (table 177 and figure 13). Between 1990 and 2005, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 32 percent. Enrollment of persons 25 and over rose by 19 percent during the same period. From 2005 to 2015, NCES projects a rise of 11 percent in enrollments of persons under 25, and a rise of 18 percent in enrollments of persons 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 190). From 1985 to 1992, undergraduate enrollment increased each year, rising 18 percent before declining slightly and stabilizing between 1993 and 1996. Undergraduate enrollment rose 21 percent between 1996 and 2005. Graduate enrollment had been steady at about 1.3 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 59 percent between 1985 and 2005 (table 191). After rising very rapidly during the 1970s, enrollment in first professional programs stabilized in the 1980s (table 192). First-professional enrollment began rising again in the 1990s and showed an increase of 13 percent between 1995 and 2005.

Since 1984, the number of women in graduate schools has exceeded the number of men (table 191). Between 1995 and 2005, the number of male full-time graduate students increased by 27 percent, compared to a 65 percent increase for female graduate students. Among part-time graduate students, the number of men increased by 4 percent and the number of women increased by 18 percent.

The proportion of American college students who are minorities has been increasing. In 1976, 15 percent were minorities, compared with 31 percent in 2005 (table 210). Much of the change from 1976 to 2005 can be attributed to rising numbers of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander students. During that time period, the proportion of Asian or Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent and the Hispanic proportion rose from 3 percent to 11 percent. The proportion of Black students was 9 percent at the beginning of the time period and it fluctuated during the early part of the period before rising to 13 percent in 2005. Nonresident aliens for whom race/ethnicity is not reported made up 3 percent of the total enrollment in 2005.

Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend the larger colleges and universities. In fall 2005, 40 percent of institutions had fewer than 1,000 students; however, these campuses enrolled 4 percent of college students (table 218). While 12 percent of the campuses enrolled 10,000 or more students, they accounted for 54 percent of total college enrollment.

In 2005, the five colleges with the highest enrollment were University of Phoenix Online Campus, with 117,309 students; Miami-Dade College, with 54,169 students; Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus, with 51,612 students; the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, with 51,175 students; and Western International University, with 50,663 students (table 219).

Faculty, Staff, and Salaries

Approximately 3.4 million people were employed in colleges and universities in the fall of 2005, including 2.5 million professional and 0.9 million nonprofessional staff (table 228). In the fall of 2005, there were 1.3 million faculty members in degree-granting institutions, including 0.7 million full-time and 0.6 million part-time faculty. The proportion of executive and administrative staff rose from 5 percent in 1976 to 6 percent in 2005 (table 227). The proportion of other non-teaching professional staff rose from 10 percent in 1976 to 19 percent in 2005, while the proportion of nonprofessional staff declined from 42 percent to 27 percent. The student/staff ratio at colleges and universities declined from 5.4 in 1976 to 5.0 in 2005. During the same time period, the student/faculty ratio declined from 16.6 to 15.0.

Colleges differ in their practices of employing part-time and full-time staff. In fall 2005, 48 percent of the employees at public 2-year colleges were employed full-time, compared with 68 percent at public 4-year colleges and 67 percent at private 4-year colleges (table 228). A higher proportion of the faculty at public 4-year colleges were employed full-time (70 percent) than at private 4-year colleges (50 percent) or public 2-year colleges (31 percent).

About 16 percent of U.S. faculty in colleges and universities were minorities in 2005 (based on a total faculty count excluding persons whose race/ethnicity was unknown, but including nonresident aliens who were not identified by race/ethnicity) (table 229). Six percent of the faculty were Black, 6 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 4 percent were Hispanic, and 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native. Nearly half of college faculty (45 percent) were White males, while 36 percent were White females. About 17 percent of executive, managerial, and administrative staffs were minorities in 2005, compared to about 32 percent of the nonprofessional staff. The proportion of minority staffs at public 4-year colleges (23 percent) was similar to their proportion at private 4-year colleges (21 percent).

The proportion of time that full-time instructional faculty and staff spent teaching averaged 58 percent in 2003 (table 233). For the remaining faculty time, research and scholarship accounted for 20 percent of the time and 22 percent was spent on other activities, e.g., administration, professional growth, etc.

College faculty generally suffered losses in the purchasing power of their salaries from 1972–73 to 1980–81, when average salaries declined 17 percent after adjustment for inflation (table 240). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1995–96 and 2005–06, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average of about 3 percent higher than the 1972–73 average, after adjustment for inflation. Average salaries for men in 2005–06 ($71,569) were higher than the average for women ($58,665). Men's and women's salaries have increased at about the same rate (5 and 6 percent, after adjustment for inflation) since 1995–96.

The proportion of faculty with tenure has declined in recent years. About 50 percent of full time instructional faculty had tenure in 2005–06, compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 247). A difference existed between the proportion of men and women with tenure. Fifty-five percent of men compared to 41 percent of women had tenure in 2005–06. About 52 percent of the instructional faculty at public institutions had tenure, compared to 45 percent of faculty at private institutions.


During the 2005–06 academic year, 4,276 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate's degree level or above (table 249). These included 2,582 4 year colleges and universities, and 1,694 2 year colleges. Institutions awarding various degrees in 2004–05 numbered 2,691 for associate's degrees, 2,194 for bachelor's degrees, 1,617 for master's degrees, and 596 for doctor's degrees (table 261).

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 1994–95 and 2004–05, the number of associate's, bachelor's, master's, first-professional, and doctor's degrees rose (table 251). Associate's degrees increased 29 percent, bachelor's degrees increased 24 percent, master's degrees increased 45 percent, and doctor's degrees increased 18 percent during this period. The number of first-professional degrees was 15 percent higher in 2004–05 than it was in 1994–95.

Since the mid-1980s, more women than men have earned associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees (table 251). Also, the number of women receiving all types of degrees has increased at a faster rate than the number for men. Between 1994–95 and 2004–05, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to men increased by 17 percent, while those awarded to women increased by 30 percent. During the same time period, the number of males earning doctor's degrees stayed about the same, while the number of females earning doctor's degrees rose by 46 percent.

Of the 1,439,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2004–05, the largest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (312,000), social sciences and history (157,000), and education (105,000) (table 254). At the master's degree level, the largest numbers of degrees were in the fields of education (167,000) and business (143,000) (table 255). The fields with the largest number of degrees at the doctor's degree level were education (7,700), engineering (6,500), health professions and related clinical sciences (5,900), biological and biomedical sciences (5,600), and psychology (5,100) (table 256).

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 increased 24 percent overall between 1994–95 and 2004–05, in some fields such as physical sciences and science technologies and health professions and related clinical sciences, the 2004–05 figures were lower than the 1994–95 figures (table 254). However, there is some evidence that these trends have shifted. The number of bachelor's degrees conferred in the combined fields of engineering and engineering technologies declined 7 percent between 1994–95 and 1999–2000, but then rose 9 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05 (table 254 and figure 15). The number of engineering and engineering technologies degrees conferred in 2004–05 was about 1 percent higher than the number conferred in 1994–95. The number of mathematics degrees declined by 15 percent between 1994–95 and 1999–2000, but then rose 26 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05. In addition, some technical fields experienced sustained increases in degrees conferred from 1994–95 through 2004–05. After an increase of 53 percent between 1994–95 and 1999–2000, the number of degrees in computer and information sciences grew 43 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05. Other fields with sizable numbers of degrees (over 5,000) that showed increases of over 20 percent between 1999–2000 and 2004–05 included visual and performing arts; theological studies/religious vocations; philosophy and religion; communications and journalism; parks, recreation, and leisure studies; security and protective services; social sciences and history; family and consumer/human sciences; area, ethnic, cultural, and gender studies; business; 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 317). About 7 percent of students had completed a certificate or associate's degree, 14 percent were still enrolled without having received a degree, and 21 percent were no longer working towards a bachelor's degree.


For the 2005–06 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $10,454 at public colleges and $26,889 at private colleges (table 319). Between 1995–96 and 2005–06, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public colleges rose by 30 percent, and prices at private colleges rose by 21 percent, after adjustment for inflation (tables 31 and 319).

Trend data show small increases in the current-fund expenditures per student at public 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities in the late 1980s and larger increases during the 1990s (table 345). 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.

At private not-for-profit institutions, total expenditures per full-time-equivalent student rose 14 percent between 1996–97 and 2003–04, after adjustment for inflation (table 352). In 2003–04, total expenditures per full-time-equivalent student were $37,240. At public institutions in 2003–04, the average total expenditure per full-time-equivalent student was $22,202 (table 347).

As of June 30, 2005, the market value of the endowment funds of the 120 colleges and universities with the largest amounts was $235 billion, reflecting an increase of 13 percent compared to 2004 (table 357). The five colleges with the largest endowments in 2005 were Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, University of Texas System, and Princeton University.


1 Title IV programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, provide financial aid to post-secondary students.
2 Included among degree-granting institutions are some institutions (primarily 2-year colleges) that were not previously designated as higher education institutions. Excluded from degree-granting institutions are a few institutions that were previously designated as higher education institutions even though they did not award an associate's or higher degree. Institutions of higher education 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. Institutions of higher education offered courses that led to an associate's or higher degree, or were accepted for credit towards a degree.