How Many Colleges Are in the U.S.?

How Many Colleges Are in the U.S.?
portrait of Jessica Bryant
By Jessica Bryant

Published on May 25, 2021

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When students first start thinking of college, most don't know how many options are out there. Many are only aware of their local community colleges, state schools, and the prestigious universities whose names dominate books, TV shows, and movies. In reality, the U.S. is home to thousands of institutions.

As of the 2019-20 academic year, there are 5,999 Title IV institutions in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Only 66% of those schools are considered degree-granting postsecondary institutions.

Over the last five years, the number of colleges and universities has declined by just over 13%. Enrollment has also fallen each year. Still, college continues to be a common pathway for young adults to further their education. Nearly 20 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the country in fall 2020.

Below, you'll find details on where these universities are based and the various categories they fall under.

Breakdown of Colleges in the U.S.

As of the 2019-20 academic year, the U.S. has 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions. This means they grant associate or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs.

Number of Colleges by State

The following map depicts the number of colleges in the U.S. by state based on the most recent NCES data.

State

Source: NCES

California, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania are among the states with the most colleges and universities. Each state has more than 200 institutions, and California is the only state to have more than 300.

Three of these four states — California, New York, and Texas — serve over 1 million college students. California and Texas are also home to three of the largest public university systems in the U.S.: the University of California, California State University, and the University of Texas.

Alaska, Delaware, and Wyoming are among the states with the fewest colleges and universities. Each state has fewer than 10 institutions and serves fewer than 61,000 students.

Number of Colleges by Institution Type

Colleges and universities are categorized in a multitude of ways. They can be public or private, nonprofit or for-profit, and four-year or two-year (or less).

Source: NCES

Public universities are funded by local and state governments, primarily through taxes, whereas private colleges are funded through tuition, private donations, and endowments.

Source: NCES

Private nonprofit colleges are publicly owned and funded through a combination of tuition fees, government funds, and donations. They're the most common type of higher education institution in the U.S.

Private for-profit colleges are owned by private corporations. Like nonprofit institutions, they are funded by tuition and fees; however, those funds are used in different ways. Most funds taken in by for-profit schools are spent on marketing and recruiting rather than on educational programs.

Source: NCES

As the data above shows, private four-year universities are the most common type of university in the U.S. This category includes all eight Ivy League institutions and more than a handful of other prestigious schools.

The second most common type of institution is the public two-year school, which includes most community and technical colleges.

Despite being the most popular types of institutions, the numbers of private four-year colleges and public two-year colleges have fallen steadily over the last five years. The number of private two-year institutions has also shrunk since the 2015-16 academic year by nearly 33%. Conversely, the number of public four-year universities in the U.S. has risen by almost 9%.

Alternative Educational Pathways Gain Steam

As both college enrollment and the number of postsecondary institutions decline throughout the country, interest in nondegree pathways has grown. Options like coding bootcamps have become popular alternatives for those wishing to further their education and enhance their skills.

Still, traditional colleges and universities remain the primary choice for most young adults seeking to advance their education.


Feature Image: Barry Winiker / The Image Bank / Getty Images

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