College Enrollment Statistics in the U.S.

Roughly 18 million students are enrolled in U.S. colleges, but college enrollment has generally declined over the past decade.
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Updated on February 7, 2024
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Data Summary

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    In fall 2023, almost 18.1 million students were enrolled in degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S.[1]
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    About 15.2 million students are enrolled in an undergraduate program.Note Reference [1] Roughly 8.5 million are pursuing a bachelor's degree.
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    There were about 3.1 million graduate students.Note Reference [1]
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    In 2022, about 62% of people who completed high school or earned a GED certificate immediately enrolled in college.[2]
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    In 2022, about 39% of all 18-24-year-olds were enrolled in a postsecondary program.[3]
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    College student enrollment has generally declined over the past 12 years.[4]
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    About 65% of college students are enrolled full time.Note Reference [1]
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    In fall 2023, roughly 55% of undergraduate students were women.Note Reference [1]
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    In 2021, 53% of undergraduate and graduate students were white.[5]

Every year, millions of high school seniors face big decisions about enrolling in college — and they're not the only ones. Older students, grad students, remote learners, and career switchers make up a diverse and changing student population.

This report delves into the latest college enrollment estimates by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) and other recent enrollment stats. Keep reading to learn more about the data, from college students' average age to the breakdown between full-time and part-time students and more.

How Many College Students Are in the U.S.?

In fall 2023:Note Reference [1]

  • 18.1 million students were enrolled at a postsecondary institution.
  • About 15.2 million students were enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Roughly 3.1 million were enrolled in a graduate-level program.

(Yes, that's over 18.1 million. Some students in the count were enrolled at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.)

College Enrollment Trends Over the Years

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), after a continuous rise since the 1970s, college enrollment began declining in 2010.

NCES also measures the immediate college enrollment rate: the percentage of 16-24-year-olds who completed high school or earned a GED certificate and were enrolled in college by October of the same calendar year.

Immediate college enrollment in high school has slowed in the past 20 years, following a 14 percentage point jump between 1980 and 2000.

In 2021, 61.8% of recent high school graduates ages 16-24 enrolled in college.Note Reference [2]

The U.S. experienced a college enrollment decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.Note Reference [1]

  • Total college enrollment (graduate and undergraduate) fell 4% from fall 2019 to fall 2023.
  • Undergraduate enrollment decreased by 5.6% during that same period.
  • Enrollment at community colleges fell 12%.
  • Graduate enrollment, however, has increased by 4.8%.

Enrollment by Type of College

About 7.6 million college students (about 43%) were enrolled in four-year public institutions in fall 2023.Note Reference [1]

In the chart below, PABs refer to baccalaureate institutions that primarily grant associate degrees. These schools include community colleges that grant bachelor's degrees.

Enrollment by Degree Level

Most college students are enrolled at the undergraduate level, where bachelor's degrees are more popular than associate programs.

As of fall 2023:Note Reference [1]

  • 8.5 million students were pursuing a bachelor's degree.
  • 4.4 million students were getting associate degrees.
  • About 3.1 million students were enrolled in graduate programs such as master's programs and doctoral degrees, professional studies like medical and law degrees, and other graduate-level certificate programs.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment

In fall 2023, there were almost twice as many full-time students as there were part-time students. Full-time studies are more common across every institution type except for public two-year colleges, where part-time enrollment is the norm. Part-time enrollment is least common at private nonprofit colleges.

Online vs. In-Person Enrollment

The pandemic caused many college students to shift to online learning. In fall 2021:[6]

  • Roughly 11.2 million college students — 60% of total enrollment — were enrolled in at least one distance education course. In 2019, just 37% of students were enrolled in online courses.
  • About 30% of college students were enrolled exclusively in online courses.
  • Another 30% were enrolled in at least one but not all online courses.

College Student Demographics

This section covers college enrollment statistics across demographic groups such as race, gender, and age.

College Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects undergraduate and graduate enrollment by race and ethnicity markers included in the table below.

The NSCRC collects similar data using different race and ethnicity markers. Their data found no one racial majority in college admissions. However, there were a substantial number of students whose race was unknown or unreported — roughly 2.8 million undergraduate students (18%).Note Reference [1]

There's no one racial majority in undergraduate college admissions. However, white students are the largest racial group represented in undergraduate programs.Note Reference [1]

College Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity, Fall 2023
Race/Ethnicity Undergraduate Enrollment Percentage of Undergraduates Graduate Enrollment Percentage of Graduate Students
Total Undergraduate 15,248,040 100% 3,102,873 100%
White 6,182,988 41% 1,270,826 41%
Hispanic 2,788,609 18% 286,406 9%
Black 1,641,582 11% 309,308 10%
Asian 898,076 6% 231,765 7%
Native American 101,204 1% 16,895 1%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 41,093 <1% 5,490 <1%
Multiracial 662,755 4% 112,216 4%
International 154,097 1% 160,467 5%
Unknown or unreported 2,777,636 18% 709,501 23%
Source: NSCRCNote Reference [1]

College Enrollment by Gender

Women outnumber men in college and have since 1979.Note Reference [4]

In fall 2023, over 10.1 million women were enrolled in college, compared to 7.2 million men and fewer than 1 million students whose gender was unreported.Note Reference [1]

Women make up 55% of undergraduate students and nearly 6 in 10 graduate students (59%).

Neither NCES nor NSCRC data reports on nonbinary students, transgender students, intersex students, or other students outside of the male/female or man/woman binary.

However, we do know:

  • In a 2019 survey of almost 182,000 students, 0.9% of college students identified as nonbinary or genderqueer. An additional 0.4% of the survey participants identified as a trans man or trans woman.[7]
  • In 2022, LGBTQ+ educator and expert Genny Beemyn, Ph.D., published an analysis of over 1.2 million college applications, which suggests that 2.15% of college applicants are trans or nonbinary.[8]
  • The LGBTQ+ issues-focused nonprofit Campus Pride and 36 other organizations have formally urged the NCES to incorporate data collection inclusive of nonbinary students.[9]

College Enrollment by Age

In spring 2023 — the last time this data was made available — the average age of full-time undergraduate students was about 22.5.Note Reference [1] Part-time, graduate, and professional studies students tend to be older than full-time undergraduates.

Average Age of College Students, Spring 2023
Type of Student Average Age
Undergraduate Full-Time 22.4
Undergraduate Part-Time 27
Graduate/Professional Students Full-Time 30.1
Graduate/Professional Students Part-Time 35.3
Source: NSCRCNote Reference [1]

College Enrollment and Socioeconomic Status

Students from lower-income families are less likely to enroll in college.

The following graph is from students who were ninth graders in 2009. Out of these students, those in the lowest income bracket were close to 37 percentage points less likely to enroll in college compared to students in the highest.

Additionally, according to fall enrollment estimates by the NSCRCNote Reference [1], the majority of traditionally aged undergraduate students (those under 24) who are enrolled at a four-year public college come from the wealthiest 40% of the country.

  • Nearly one-third of traditionally aged undergraduate students enrolled at public four-year institutions (31.6%) come from neighborhoods in the top 20% (or quintile) of wealth in America.
  • Another 23% come from neighborhoods in the upper middle quintile of wealth.
  • Just 9.2% of students come from neighborhoods in the bottom 20% of wealth, and 11.9% are from the lower middle quintile of wealth.

College Enrollment by State

There are more undergraduate college students enrolled in online degree programs than in any one state other than Texas and California.Note Reference [1]

College Enrollment by State, Fall 2023

Sort Results by:
College Enrollment by State, Fall 2023
State Enrollment Percent Change from Previous Year
Alabama 267,435 2.40%
Alaska 19,425 1.20%
Arizona 489,057 0.80%
Arkansas 137,733 3.20%
California 2,379,280 2.20%
Colorado 285,516 0.00%
Connecticut 164,573 -2.50%
Delaware 55,506 0.40%
District of Columbia 80,110 -1.20%
Florida 906,792 0.10%
Georgia 533,776 4.10%
Hawaii 53,998 1.30%
Idaho 120,216 2.10%
Illinois 607,692 2.00%
Indiana 351,439 3.10%
Iowa 180,566 -1.00%
Kansas 175,852 2.10%
Kentucky 253,146 4.00%
Louisiana 205,714 -3.30%
Maine 73,199 1.00%
Maryland 329,370 2.70%
Massachusetts 448,976 3.40%
Michigan 452,689 0.60%
Minnesota 273,420 1.70%
Mississippi 145,651 2.70%
Missouri 310,926 0.50%
Montana 46,939 4.80%
Nebraska 117,725 -1.20%
Nevada 104,709 -2.10%
New Hampshire 47,528 -3.10%
New Jersey 356,541 -2.20%
New Mexico 100,871 1.30%
New York 1,056,172 -0.50%
North Carolina 541,043 0.20%
North Dakota 50,345 1.50%
Ohio 542,728 0.30%
Oklahoma 180,258 1.90%
Oregon 182,258 -1.40%
Pennsylvania 671,514 -1.20%
Rhode Island 67,391 0.90%
South Carolina 241,761 1.90%
South Dakota 46,200 2.00%
Tennessee 287,634 -0.50%
Texas 1,543,320 0.90%
Utah 249,466 4.10%
Vermont 35,586 -2.40%
Virginia 512,518 1.10%
Washington 292,136 2.50%
West Virginia 73,568 0.30%
Wisconsin 294,157 -1.40%
Wyoming 28,148 -1.10%
Online/Multi-State 1,264,225 2.20%
Source: NSCRCNote Reference [1]

Frequently Asked Questions About College Enrollment Statistics

What percent of people go to college?

In 2022, 39% of 18-24-year-olds were enrolled in college.Note Reference [3] That represents an increase of about 10 percentage points since the late 1980s. However, since 2010, the college enrollment rate has stayed about the same, even dipping slightly.

More higher education is generally correlated with higher earnings. At the same time, college can be a high-risk investment, which is something to consider when deciding if college is worth it.

In 2022, 62% of recent high school graduates were enrolled in college. That's the lowest immediate college enrollment rate in over 20 years, when the rate was about the same.Note Reference [2]

In 2022, 61% of all people ages 18-24 were not enrolled in college.3 According to the Census Bureau's population estimates, that's about 19.1 million people.[11]