College Enrollment Statistics in the U.S.

Nearly 16 million students are enrolled in U.S. colleges, but college enrollment has generally declined over the past decade.
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Data Summary

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    In Spring 2022, almost 16 million students were enrolled in degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S.[1]
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    In 2020, about 63% of people who completed high school or earned a GED certificate immediately enrolled in college.[2]
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    As of 2020, 40% 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 10 years.[4]
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    About 63% of college students are enrolled full time.Footnote [1]
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    In 2020, about 59% of college students were women.[5]
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    54% of undergraduate and graduate students in 2020 were white.[6] However, 2022's first-year class may be more diverse.Footnote [1]

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.

Table of Contents

Total U.S. College Enrollment Statistics

In Spring 2022:Footnote [1]

  • 15.9 million students were enrolled at a postsecondary institution.Footnote [1]
  • About 11.6 million students, or 73%, were enrolled in an associate or bachelor's program.
  • Roughly 2.9 million, or 18%, were enrolled in a graduate-level program.

College Enrollment Over the Years

After a continuous rise from the 1970s, college enrollment has generally declined since 2010.

Source: The National Center Education Statistics (NCES)

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 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.

Source: NCES (1960-2020) and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021)

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

  • Total college enrollment (graduate and undergraduate) fell 7.4% since the pandemic started in spring 2020.
  • Undergraduate enrollment decreased by 9.4% during that same period.
  • Community colleges have lost almost 20% of students aged 18-to-24 and 16.2% of older students.

Enrollment by Type of College

About 7.3 million, or 46%, of college students were enrolled in a four-year public institution in spring 2022.Footnote [1]

The smallest number of students were enrolled in two-year private nonprofit and for-profit schools, which don't appear in the chart below due to low numbers. Together they accounted for roughly 2% of total enrollments.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC)

Enrollment by Degree Level

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

About 2.8 million students are enrolled in graduate programs such as master's and doctoral degrees, professional studies like medical and law degrees, and other graduate-level certificate programs.Footnote [1]

The fewest students are enrolled in undergraduate-level non-degree or certificate programs.

Source: NSCRC

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment

There are almost twice as many full-time students as there are 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.

Source: NSCRC

Online vs. In-Person Enrollment

The pandemic caused many college students to shift to online learning. In Fall 2020:[7]

  • Roughly 14 million college students — 74% of total enrollment — were enrolled in at least one distance education course. In 2019, just 37% of students were enrolled in online courses.
  • Almost 46% of college students were enrolled exclusively in online courses, representing a 151% increase from the previous year.
  • About 29% were enrolled in at least one but not all online courses.

College Student Statistics

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

College Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

In 2020, the majority (54%) of U.S. resident students enrolled in any degree-granting program were white. However, recent data on first-year college students shows a more diverse student population.

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

Source: NCES

The NSCRC collects similar data using different race and ethnicity markers. In Spring 2022, they released a special analysis including race and ethnicity among first-year students (i.e., students with no previous enrollment).

Here's what they found:

Source: NSCRC

Of note, the recent college enrollment decline has disproportionately affected Black students. Since the start of the pandemic, Black student first-year enrollment has declined by almost 19%. Meanwhile, first-year enrollment for all students has slightly risen, increasing by 0.6%.Footnote [1]

College Enrollment by Sex and Gender

Female students outnumber male students in college and have since 1979.Footnote [5]

In Spring 2022:Footnote [1]

  • About 9.6 million women were enrolled in college, compared to roughly 6.6 million men. In other words, there were almost 1.5 times as many women enrolled in college as men.
  • Women outnumbered men across two-year public, four-year public, four-year private nonprofit, and four-year private for-profit colleges.
  • Of note, fewer women were enrolled in two-year public colleges compared to recent years. Women's enrollment at these schools dropped 9.2% from 2021-2022.

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.[8]
  • Younger adults are more likely to identify as transgender or nonbinary than older adults.[9]
  • The LGBTQ+ issues-focused nonprofit Campus Pride and 36 other organizations have formally urged the NCES to incorporate data collection inclusive of nonbinary students.[10]

College Enrollment by Age

In spring 2022, the average age of full-time undergraduate students was almost 23. Part-time, graduate, and professional studies students tend to be older than full-time undergraduates.

Average Age of College Students 2022
Type of Student Average Age
Undergraduate Full-Time 22.7
Undergraduate Part-Time 27.5
Graduate/Professional Students Full-Time 30.4
Graduate/Professional Students Part-Time 35.5

Source: NSCRC

Source: NSCRC

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.

Source: NCES

More College Student Statistics

College Enrollment by State

Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, and South Carolina were the only states that experienced enrollment increases between spring 2021 and 2022.Footnote [1] California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania experienced the steepest drops, dipping by more than 12%.

Source: NSCRC

Frequently Asked Questions About College Enrollment Statistics

What percent of people go to college?

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In 2020, 40% of 18-24-year-olds were enrolled in college.Footnote [3] That represents an increase of about 10 percentage points since the late '80s. However, since 2010, the college enrollment rate has stayed about the same.

More higher education is generally correlated with higher earnings.[15] At the same time, college can be a high-risk investment, which is something to consider when deciding if college is worth it.

What percent of students go to college after high school?

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In 2021, 61.8% of recent high school graduates ages 16-24 were enrolled in college.[16] That's the lowest immediate college enrollment rate in 20 years, when the rate was the same.Footnote [2]

How many people don't go to college?

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In 2020, 60% of people ages 18-24 were not enrolled in college.Footnote [3] According to the Census Bureau's population estimates, that's about 18.1 million people.[17]


References

  1. Spring 2022 Enrollment Estimates: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. May 2022.
  2. Table 302.10. Recent high school completers and their enrollment in college, by sex and level of institution: 1960 through 2020. NCES. August 2021.
  3. Table 302.60 Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college, by level of institution and sex and race/ethnicity of student: 1970 through 2020. NCES. August 2021.
  4. Table 303.70. Total undergraduate fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control and level of institution: Selected years, 1970 through 2030. NCES. November 2021.
  5. Table 303.10. Total fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control of institution: Selected years, 1947 through 2030. NCES. November 2021.
  6. Table 306.5. Total fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control and classification of institution, level of enrollment, and race/ethnicity or nonresident alien status of student: 2020. NCES. November 2021.
  7. Table 311.15. Number and percentage of students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by distance education participation, location of student, level of enrollment, and control and level of institution: Fall 2019 and fall 2020. November 2021.
  8. Cantor, David et al. Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. The American Association of American Universities. January 2020.
  9. Brown, Anna. About 5% of young adults in the U.S. say their gender is different from their sex assigned at birth. Pew Research Center. June 2022.
  10. Beemyn, Dr. Genny, et al. Correspondence to Michelle Asha Cooper, Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education. April 2022.
  11. Table 503.40 Percentage of 16- to 64-year-old undergraduate students who were employed, by attendance status, hours worked per week, and selected characteristics: 2010, 2015, and 2020. NCES. September 2021.
  12. First-generation College Students: Demographic Characteristics and Postsecondary Enrollment. Center for First-Generation Student Success. 2018.
  13. Institute of International Education. International Student Enrollment Trends, 1948/49-2020/21." Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange. 2021.
  14. New Report: More than 450,000 undocumented students enrolled in colleges & universities in the United States. Presidents' Alliance: On Higher Education and Immigration. April 2020.
  15. Education Pays, 2021. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. May 2022.
  16. College Enrollment and Work Activity of Recent High School and College Graduates. Bureau of Labor Statistics. April 2022.
  17. 2020 Demographic Analysis Estimates by Age and Sex. Table 1. Total U.S. Resident Population by Age, Sex, and Series: April 1, 2020 (in thousands). U.S. Census Bureau. March 2022.