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 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. See chapter 5 for information on adults' participation in nonpostsecondary education, such as adult secondary education classes (e.g., to prepare for the GED test) or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
Fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 21 percent between 1994 and 2004 (table 303.10 and figure 12). Between 2004 and 2014, enrollment increased 17 percent, from 17.3 million to 20.2 million. The number of full-time students rose 17 percent between 2004 and 2014, while the number of part-time students rose 16 percent. During the same period, the number of female students rose 15 percent, while the number of male students rose 19 percent. Although male enrollment increased by a larger percentage than female enrollment between 2004 and 2014, the majority (56 percent) of students in 2014 were female. During the most recent part of this period, between 2010 and 2014, enrollment decreased by 4 percent, reflecting decreases for both males (3 percent) and females (5 percent). In addition to enrollment in degree-granting institutions, about 456,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible, postsecondary institutions in fall 2014 (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.
Enrollment trends can be affected both by changes in population and by changing rates of enrollment. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds in the population rose from 29.3 million to 31.5 million, an increase of 7 percent (table 101.10), and the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions rose from 38 percent in 2004 to 40 percent in 2014 (table 302.60). During this period, the enrollment rate for males in the 18- to 24-year-old age group increased from 35 to 37 percent. There was no measurable change in the enrollment rate for females in this age group between 2004 and 2014. The enrollment rate for 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics rose from 25 percent in 2004 to 35 percent in 2014. In 2014, the enrollment rate for Whites in the same age group was 42 percent, and the enrollment rate for Blacks was 33 percent; neither of these rates was measurably different from the corresponding rate in 2004.
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 generally has been lower in recent years (table 304.10 and figure 13). Overall, fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions declined 0.5 percent between 2009 and 2014. Similarly, fall 2014 enrollment was lower than fall 2009 enrollment in the majority of states (27) and the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia's enrollment was 34 percent lower in 2014 than in 2009, Iowa's was 20 percent lower, and Michigan's was 10 percent lower. In contrast, enrollment was higher in 2014 than in 2009 in 23 states. The largest increase was in New Hampshire (44 percent), followed by Idaho (41 percent), Utah (16 percent), Delaware (10 percent), and West Virginia (10 percent).
Between fall 2004 and fall 2014, the percentage increase in the number of students enrolled in degree-granting institutions was higher for students under age 25 than for older students; however, the rate of increase is expected to be lower for students under age 25 than for older students in the coming years (table 303.40 and figure 14). The enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 18 percent from 2004 to 2014, while the enrollment of those age 25 and over increased by 16 percent. From 2014 to 2025, however, NCES projects the increase for students under age 25 to be 13 percent, compared with 18 percent for students age 25 and over.
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 (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 2004 and 2014, undergraduate enrollment rose 17 percent overall, from 14.8 million to 17.3 million; however, undergraduate enrollment in 2014 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 and mid-1970s (table 303.80). Postbaccalaureate enrollment increased from 1985 to 2014, rising a total of 77 percent. During the last decade of this period, between 2004 and 2014, postbaccalaureate enrollment rose 17 percent, from 2.4 million to 2.9 million.
Since fall 1988, the number of females in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of males. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 24 percent, compared with a 28 percent increase in the number of full-time female postbaccalaureate students. Among part-time postbaccalaureate students, the number of males increased by 5 percent and the number of females increased by 8 percent.
Eleven percent of undergraduates in both 2007–08 and 2011–12 reported having a disability (table 311.10). In 2011–12, the percentage of undergraduates who reported having a disability was 11 percent for both males and females. However, there were some differences in the percentages of undergraduates with disabilities by characteristics such as veteran status, age, dependency status, and race/ethnicity. For example, 21 percent of undergraduates who were veterans reported having a disability, compared with 11 percent of undergraduates who were not veterans. The percentage of undergraduates having a disability was higher among those age 30 and over (16 percent) than among 15- to 23-year-olds (9 percent) and 24- to 29-year-olds (11 percent). Among dependent undergraduates, 9 percent reported having a disability, which was lower than the percentages for independent undergraduates who were married (13 percent) or unmarried (14 percent). Compared to undergraduates of other racial/ethnic groups, a lower percentage of Asian undergraduates (8 percent) had a disability. The percentage of postbaccalaureate students who reported having a disability in 2011–12 (5 percent) was lower than the percentage for undergraduates (11 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 fall 1976 to fall 2014, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 17 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 percent, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 percent to 14 percent, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students rose from 0.7 percent to 0.8 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 58 percent. Nonresident aliens, for whom race/ethnicity is not reported, made up 5 percent of college students in 2014.
Of the 20.2 million students enrolled in fall 2014, 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 courses (table 311.15). In addition, 14 percent of students took their college program exclusively through distance education courses. The remaining 72 percent of students took no distance education courses. About 9 percent of students at public institutions took their coursework exclusively through distance education courses, in comparison to 15 percent of students at private nonprofit institutions and 54 percent of students at private for-profit institutions. About 12 percent of undergraduates took their coursework exclusively through distance education courses, compared to 25 percent of postbaccalaureate students.
Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend larger colleges and universities. In fall 2014, some 44 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 fall 2014, the five postsecondary institutions with the highest enrollment were University of Phoenix, with 195,100 students; Ivy Tech Community College, with 91,200 students; Liberty University, with 81,500 students; Lone Star College System, with 69,400 students; and Miami Dade College, with 66,000 students (table 312.10).
Approximately 3.9 million people were employed in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in fall 2013, including 1.5 million faculty, 0.4 million graduate assistants, and 2.0 million other staff (table 314.20). Out of the 1.5 million faculty in 2013, 0.8 million were full-time and 0.8 million were part-time faculty. From 2003 to 2013, the proportion of staff who were faculty rose from 37 percent to 40 percent. The proportion of other staff not engaged in teaching decreased from 54 percent in 2003 to 51 percent in 2013. The proportion of graduate assistants was 9 percent in both 2003 and 2013. The full-time-equivalent (FTE) student/FTE staff ratio at degree-granting institutions was 5.2 in both 2003 and 2013 (table 314.10 and figure 15). The FTE student/FTE faculty ratio was lower in 2013 (14.8) than in 2003 (15.6).
Colleges and universities differ in their practices of employing part-time and full-time staff. In fall 2013, 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, 69 percent at private nonprofit 4-year colleges and universities, and 60 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 (67 percent) than at private nonprofit 4-year colleges and universities (56 percent), private for-profit 4-year colleges and universities (15 percent), private nonprofit 2-year colleges (43 percent), private for-profit 2-year colleges (41 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 2003 and 2013, the number of full-time staff increased by 19 percent, compared to an increase of 29 percent in the number of part-time staff. Most of the increase in part-time staff was due to the increase in the number of part-time faculty (39 percent) and graduate assistants (24 percent) during this time period.
In fall 2013, 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 0.5 percent were Pacific Islander (table 314.40). About 79 percent of all faculty with known race/ethnicity were White; 41 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 26 percent of graduate assistants and 29 percent of other staff in nonfaculty positions in 2013. 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 nonprofit 4-year colleges (24 percent), public 2-year colleges (25 percent), and private nonprofit 2-year colleges (26 percent), but the proportion was higher at private for-profit 4-year colleges (31 percent) and at private for-profit 2-year colleges (38 percent).
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 2014–15 dollars, average salaries for faculty on 9-month contracts declined by 16 percent during the period from 1970–71 ($75,700) to 1980–81 ($63,700) (table 316.10). During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1990–91 and 2014–15, there was a further increase in average faculty salaries, resulting in an average salary in 2014–15 ($80,200) that was 6 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 for males in 2014–15 ($87,200) was slightly higher than in 2004–05 ($85,600 in constant 2014–15 dollars). For females, the average salary in 2014–15 ($71,900) also was slightly higher than the salary in 2004–05 ($70,300). In 2014–15, average salaries for males were 21 percent higher than for females, compared to 22 percent higher in 2004–05.
The percentage of faculty with tenure has declined. Of those faculty at institutions with tenure systems, 48 percent of full-time faculty had tenure in 2013–14, compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 316.80). Also, the percentage of institutions with tenure systems decreased between 1993–94 (63 percent) and 2013–14 (49 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 (1.2 percent in 2013–14) (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-seven percent of males had tenure in 2013–14, compared with 43 percent of females. In 2013–14, about 53 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure at public institutions with tenure systems, compared with 46 percent at private nonprofit institutions with tenure systems and 20 percent at private for-profit institutions with tenure systems.
During the 2014–15 academic year, 4,627 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate's degree level or above (table 317.10). These included 1,621 public institutions, 1,672 private nonprofit institutions, and 1,334 private for-profit institutions. Of the 4,627 institutions, 3,011 were 4-year institutions that awarded degrees at the bachelor's or higher level, and 1,616 were 2-year institutions that offered associate's degrees as their highest award. In 2013–14, associate's degrees were awarded by 3,006 institutions, bachelor's degrees by 2,588 institutions, master's degrees by 1,902 institutions, and doctor's degrees by 939 institutions (table 318.60).
Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 2003–04 and 2013–14, 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 51 percent, the number of bachelor's degrees increased by 34 percent, the number of master's degrees increased by 34 percent, and the number of doctor's degrees increased by 41 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 2003–04 and 2013–14, the number of associate's degrees awarded to females increased by 51 percent, while the number awarded to males increased by 50 percent. The number of females earning master's degrees rose 36 percent during this period, while the number of males earning master's degrees rose 30 percent. The number of females earning doctor's degrees increased 48 percent, while the number of males earning doctor's degrees increased 34 percent. Between 2003–04 and 2013–14, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to males increased by 35 percent and the number awarded to females increased by 33 percent. In addition to degrees awarded at the associate's and higher levels, 969,000 certificates were awarded by postsecondary institutions participating in federal Title IV financial aid programs in 2013–14 (table 320.20).
Of the 1,870,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2013–14, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (358,000), health professions and related programs (199,000), social sciences and history (173,000), psychology (117,000), biological and biomedical sciences (105,000), and education (99,000) (table 322.10). At the master's degree level, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (189,000), education (155,000), and health professions and related programs (97,000) (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 (67,400), legal professions and studies (44,200), education (10,900), engineering (10,000), biological and biomedical sciences (8,300), psychology (6,600), and physical sciences and science technologies (5,800) (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 34 percent overall between 2003–04 and 2013–14, 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 degrees conferred in computer and information sciences decreased 36 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09, but then increased 46 percent between 2008–09 and 2013–14. In contrast, the number of bachelor's degrees conferred in the combined fields of engineering and engineering technologies increased 8 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09, and then increased a further 29 percent between 2008–09 and 2013–14. In a number of other major fields, the number of bachelor's degrees also increased by higher percentages in the second half of the 10-year period than in the first half. For example, the number of degrees conferred in agriculture and natural resources increased by 9 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09 and then by 41 percent between 2008–09 and 2013–14. The number of degrees conferred in health professions and related programs increased by 63 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09 and then by 65 percent between 2008–09 and 2013–14. Also, the number of degrees conferred in public administration and social services increased by 16 percent between 2003–04 and 2008–09 and then by 40 percent between 2008–09 and 2013–14. Other fields with sizable numbers of degrees (over 5,000 in 2013–14) that showed increases of 30 percent or more between 2008–09 and 2013–14 included homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting (49 percent); parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies (45 percent); multi/interdisciplinary studies (37 percent); and mathematics and statistics (35 percent). Some fields with sizable numbers of degrees did not have increases during the 2008–09 to 2013–14 period. The number of degrees in education was 3 percent lower in 2013–14 than in 2008–09. Also, the number of degrees in foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics was 4 percent lower in 2013–14 than in 2008–09; and the number of degrees in philosophy and religious studies was also 4 percent lower.
Among first-time students who were seeking a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and attending a 4-year institution full time in 2008, about 40 percent completed a bachelor's degree or its equivalent at that institution within 4 years, while 55 percent did so within 5 years, and 60 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 2008. 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 2008 cohort at private nonprofit institutions was 65 percent, compared with 58 percent at public institutions and 27 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 2008 cohort was 71 percent, compared with 65 percent for students of Two or more races, 63 percent for Whites, 54 percent for Hispanics, 50 percent for Pacific Islanders, 41 percent for Blacks, and 41 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives.
For the 2014–15 academic year, annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board were estimated to be $16,188 at public institutions, $41,970 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,372 at private for-profit institutions (table 330.10). Between 2004–05 and 2014–15, prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public institutions rose 33 percent, and prices at private nonprofit institutions rose 26 percent, after adjustment for inflation. The price for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at private for-profit institutions decreased 18 percent between 2004–05 and 2014–15, 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. For 2013–14, less than 0.01 percent of postsecondary students had their eligibility to receive aid suspended due to a conviction (table C).
|Table C. Suspension of eligibility for Title IV federal student financial aid due to a drug-related conviction or failure to report conviction status on aid application form: 2007–08 through 2013–14|
|Award year||No suspension
|Suspension of eligibility|
|For full award year|
|#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 2013–14, total revenue was $353 billion at public institutions, $229 billion at private nonprofit institutions, and $23 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 2013–14 (30 and 90 percent, respectively). Tuition and fees accounted for 20 percent of revenue at public institutions in 2013–14. Public institutions typically report Pell grants as revenue from federal grants, while private institutions report Pell grants as revenue from tuition and fees; this difference in reporting contributes to the smaller percentage of revenue reported as tuition and fees at public institutions compared to private institutions. At public institutions, the share of revenue from tuition and fees in 2013–14 (20 percent) was higher than the share from state appropriations (18 percent), while the share from state appropriations in 2007–08 (25 percent) was higher than that from tuition and fees (18 percent) (table 333.10). In 2013–14, tuition and fees constituted the largest revenue category at private nonprofit 2- and 4-year institutions, private for-profit 2- and 4-year institutions, and public 4-year institutions (tables 333.10, 333.40, and 333.55). At public 2-year institutions, tuition and fees constituted the fourth largest revenue category.
Average total expenditures of institutions per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student in 2013–14—shown in constant 2014–15 dollars throughout this paragraph—varied by institution control and level, as did changes in average total expenditures per FTE student between 2008–09 and 2013–14 (after adjustment for inflation). In 2013–14, average total expenditures per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student at public degree-granting colleges were $30,500 (table 334.10). The 2013–14 total expenditures per FTE student were 2 percent higher than in 2008–09. In 2013–14, public 4-year colleges had average total expenditures per FTE student of $40,000, compared with $13,900 at public 2-year colleges. At private nonprofit institutions, total expenditures per FTE student in 2013–14 were 2 percent higher than in 2008–09 (table 334.30). In 2013–14, total expenditures per FTE student at private nonprofit institutions averaged $52,000 at 4-year colleges and $20,800 at 2-year colleges. The expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit institutions in 2013–14 ($19,700) were 39 percent higher than in 2008–09 (table 334.50). In 2013–14, total expenditures per FTE student at private for-profit institutions averaged $20,700 at 4-year colleges and $16,600 at 2-year colleges. This difference in expenditures per FTE student between 4-year and 2-year for-profit colleges was relatively small compared to the differences between 4-year and 2-year public and private nonprofit colleges.At the end of fiscal year 2014, the market value of the endowment funds of colleges and universities was $535 billion, reflecting an increase of 15 percent compared to the beginning of the fiscal year, when the total was $466 billion (table 333.90). At the end of fiscal year 2014, the 120 colleges with the largest endowments accounted for $399 billion, or about three-fourths of the national total. The five colleges with the largest endowments in 2014 were Harvard University ($36 billion), the University of Texas System ($25 billion), Yale University ($24 billion), Stanford University ($21 billion), and Princeton University ($21 billion).
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 higher education institutions offered courses that led to an associate's or higher degree, or were accepted for credit towards a degree.