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Digest of Education Statistics: 2010
Digest of Education Statistics: 2010

NCES 2011-015
April 2011

Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education includes an array of diverse educational experiences offered by American colleges and universities and technical and vocational institutions. 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.

This chapter provides an overview of the latest statistics on postsecondary education, which includes academic, career and technical, 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 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 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 as well as nonpostsecondary educational opportunities for 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 9 percent between 1989 and 1999 (table 197 and figure 11). Between 1999 and 2009, enrollment increased 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million. Much of the growth between 1999 and 2009 was in full-time enrollment; the number of full-time students rose 45 percent, while the number of part-time students rose 28 percent. During the same time period, the number of females rose 40 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 1999 and 2009, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 26.7 million to 30.4 million, an increase of 14 percent (table 20), and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college rose from 36 percent in 1999 to 41 percent in 2009 (table 212). In addition to enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 472,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2008 (table 195).

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 199 and figure 13). Between 2000 and 2009, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 27 percent. Enrollment of students 25 and over rose 43 percent during the same period. From 2010 to 2019, NCES projects a rise of 9 percent in enrollments of students under 25, and a rise of 23 percent in enrollments of students 25 and over.

Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate and postbaccalaureate levels (which include graduate and first-professional programs). Undergraduate enrollment generally increased during the 1970s, but dipped from 10.8 million to 10.6 million between 1983 and 1985 (table 213). From 1985 to 1992, undergraduate enrollment increased each year, rising 18 percent before stabilizing between 1992 and 1998. Undergraduate enrollment rose 39 percent between 1999 and 2009. Postbaccalaureate enrollment had been steady at about 1.6 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 73 percent between 1985 and 2009 (table 214).

Since 1988, the number of females in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of males (table 214). Between 1999 and 2009, the number of male full-time postbaccalaureate students increased by 36 percent, compared with a 63 percent increase in the number of females. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males increased by 14 percent and the number of females increased by 26 percent.

Eleven percent of undergraduates reported having a disability in 2007–08, similar to the percentage in 2003–04 (table 240). 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. 61 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. 54 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 235). From 1976 to 2009, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 3 percent to 12 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 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 62 percent. Nonresident aliens, for whom race/ethnicity is not reported, made up 3 percent of the total enrollment in 2009.

Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend larger colleges and universities. In fall 2009, some 39 percent of institutions had fewer than 1,000 students; however, these campuses enrolled 4 percent of all college students (table 244). While 13 percent of the campuses enrolled 10,000 or more students, they accounted for 59 percent of total college enrollment.

In 2009, the five postsecondary institutions with the highest enrollment were University of Phoenix, Online Campus, with 380,232 students; Kaplan University, with 71,011 students; Arizona State University, with 68,064 students; Miami-Dade College, with 59,120 students; and Ohio State University, with 55,014 (table 246).

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 255). 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 executive, administrative, and managerial staff was 6 percent in 2009, compared to 5 percent in 1976 (table 254). The proportion of other non-teaching professional staff 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). 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 255). 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 253). 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 256). About 79 percent of all faculty 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 instructional faculty and staff spent 58 percent of their time teaching in 2003 (table 261). 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 in the period from 1970–71 to 1980–81, during which average salaries for faculty on 9-month contracts declined by 16 percent after adjustment for inflation (table 267). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average salary in 2009–10 that was about 8 percent higher than the average salary in 1970–71, after adjustment for inflation. The average salary in current dollars for males in 2009–10 ($80,885) was higher than the average salary for females ($66,653). Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, the average salary for males increased by 5 percent and the average salary for females increased by 6 percent, after adjustment for inflation.

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 274). 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, relatively few of which have tenure systems (1.5 percent in 2009–10). 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 2009–10 academic year, 4,495 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate’s degree level or above (table 276). These included 1,672 public institutions, 1,624 private not-for-profit institutions, and 1,199 private for-profit institutions. Of the 4,495 institutions, 2,774 awarded degrees at the bachelor’s or higher level, and 1,721 offered associate’s degrees as their highest award. Institutions awarding various degrees in 2008–09 numbered 2,786 for associate’s degrees, 2,348 for bachelor’s degrees, 1,777 for master’s degrees, and 737 for doctor’s degrees (table 289).

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 1998–99 and 2008–09, the number of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, first-professional, and doctor’s degrees that were conferred rose (table 279). During this period, associate’s degrees increased by 41 percent, bachelor’s degrees increased by 33 percent, master’s degrees increased by 49 percent, first-professional degrees increased by 17 percent, and doctor’s degrees increased by 54 percent. Since the mid-1980s, more females than males have earned associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. In 2006–07, 2007–08, and 2008–09, the number of females earning doctor’s degrees exceeded the number of males. Also, the number of females receiving degrees has increased at a faster rate than the number of males. Between 1998–99 and 2008–09, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to males increased by 32 percent, while the number awarded to females increased by 34 percent. The number of males earning doctor’s degrees rose 28 percent between 1998–99 and 2008–09, while the number of females earning doctor’s degrees rose 87 percent. In addition to degrees awarded at the associate’s and higher levels, 806,000 certificates were awarded by postsecondary institutions participating in federal Title IV financial aid programs in 2008–09 (table 292).

Of the 1,601,000 bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2008–09, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (348,000); social sciences and history (169,000); health sciences (120,000); and education (102,000) (table 282). At the master’s degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of education (179,000) and business (168,000) (table 283). At the doctor’s degree level, the greatest number of degrees were conferred in the fields of health professions and related clinical sciences (12,100); education (9,000); engineering (7,900); biological and biomedical sciences (7,000); psychology (5,500); and physical sciences (5,000) (table 284).

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 1998–99 and 2008–09, there was substantial variation among the different fields of study, as well as shifts in the patterns of change during this time period (table 282). The number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in the combined fields of engineering and engineering technologies increased 8 percent between 1998–99 and 2003–04, and then increased a further 8 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09 (table 282 and figure 15). In contrast, the number of degrees conferred in the health professions declined by 13 percent between 1998–99 and 2003–04, but then rose 63 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09. Similarly, the number of degrees conferred in biological sciences was 5 percent lower in 2003–04 than in 1998–99, but then increased by 31 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09; and the number conferred in the physical sciences was 2 percent lower in 2003–04 than in 1998–99, but then increased by 25 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09. Some technical fields experienced a contrasting pattern. After an increase of 95 percent between 1998–99 and 2003–04, the number of degrees conferred in computer and information sciences decreased by 36 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09. Other fields with sizable numbers of degrees (over 5,000 in 2003–04) that showed increases of over 30 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09 included security and protective services (48 percent) and parks, recreation, and leisure studies (43 percent).

Approximately 57 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2002 completed a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent at that institution within 6 years (table 341). 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 the 2002–03 academic year. 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 2002 cohort at private not-for-profit institutions was 65 percent, compared with 55 percent at public institutions and 22 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 2002 cohort was 67 percent, compared with 60 percent for Whites, 49 percent for Hispanics, 40 percent for Blacks, and 38 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives.

Finances and Financial Aid

For the 2009–10 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $12,804 at public institutions and $32,184 at private institutions (table 345). Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 37 percent, and prices at private institutions rose 25 percent, after adjustment for inflation.

In 2007–08, about 80 percent of full-time undergraduate students received financial aid (grants, loans, work-study, or aid of multiple types) (table 349). 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. Less than 0.1 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 2008–09, average total expenditures per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student at public degree-granting colleges were $27,135 (table 373). This total reflects an increase of about 6 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09, after adjustment for inflation. In 2008–09, public 4-year colleges had average total expenditures per FTE student of $36,707, compared with $12,153 at public 2-year colleges. At private not-for-profit colleges, total expenditures per FTE student rose 16 percent between 1998–99 and 2008–09, after adjustment for inflation (table 375). In 2008–09, total expenditures per FTE student at private not-for-profit colleges were $45,853; they averaged $46,080 at 4-year colleges and $19,129 at 2-year colleges. The expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit institutions were $12,848 in 2008–09, which was about 1 percent higher than in 1999–2000, after adjustment for inflation (table 377). The difference between average expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit 4-year colleges ($12,654) and private for-profit 2-year colleges ($13,498) was relatively small compared to the differences between 2-year and 4-year public and private not-for-profit colleges.

As of June 30, 2009, the market value of the endowment funds of colleges and universities was $326 billion, reflecting a decrease of 21 percent compared to 2008, when the total was $413 billion. In 2009, the 120 colleges with the largest endowments accounted for $243 billion, or about three-fourths of the national total (table 372). The five colleges with the largest endowments in 2009 were Harvard University ($26 billion), Yale University ($16 billion), Princeton University ($13 billion), Stanford University ($13 billion), and the University of Texas System ($11 billion).


1 Title IV programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, provide financial aid to postsecondary 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.