College Enrollment Statistics in the U.S.

Nearly 17 million students are enrolled in U.S. colleges, but college enrollment has generally declined over the past decade.
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Updated on August 8, 2023
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Data Summary

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    In spring 2023, about 16.9 million students were enrolled in degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S.[1]
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    About 14.2 million students are enrolled in an undergraduate program.Note Reference [1] Roughly 7.9 million are pursuing a bachelor's degree.
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    In 2021, about 62% of people who completed high school or earned a GED certificate immediately enrolled in college.[2]
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    In 2021, about 38.1% 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.Note Reference [1]
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    In spring 2023, roughly 58% college 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.

Total U.S. College Enrollment Statistics

In spring 2023:Note Reference [1]

  • 16.9 million students were enrolled at a postsecondary institution.
  • About 14.2 million students were enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Roughly 3 million were enrolled in a graduate-level program.

(Yes, that's over 16.9 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 7% from spring 2019 to spring 2023.
  • Undergraduate enrollment decreased by 8.9% during that same period.
  • Enrollment at community colleges fell 19.5%.
  • Graduate enrollment, however, has increased by 2.6%.

Enrollment by Type of College

About 7.1 million college students (about 42%) were enrolled in four-year public institutions in spring 2023.Note Reference [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. In spring 2023, enrollment at these schools accounted for roughly 2% of total enrollments.Note Reference [1]

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 spring 2023:Note Reference [1]

  • 7.9 million students were pursuing a bachelor's degree.
  • 4 million students were getting associate degrees.
  • About 3 million students were enrolled in graduate programs such as master's and doctoral degrees, professional studies like medical and law degrees, and other graduate-level certificate programs.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment

In spring 2023, 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 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 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 graphs 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 2.7 million undergraduate students (18%).Note Reference [1]

The graduate student population has less representation of Black and Latinx students (9.8% and 9.1%, respectively) compared to the undergraduate student population (10.6% and 17.5%).

International students have greater representation in the graduate student population than the undergraduate student population (4.5% vs. 1%).

College Enrollment by Gender

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

In spring 2023:Note Reference [1]

  • About 10 million women undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled in college, compared to roughly 7.1 million men.
  • Women outnumbered men across two-year public, four-year public, four-year private nonprofit, and four-year private for-profit colleges.
  • At private nonprofit colleges, there were about 2.3 million women enrolled and 1.6 million men.

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]
  • 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.[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 2023, 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.

College Enrollment by State

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

Frequently Asked Questions About College Enrollment Statistics

What percent of people go to college?

In 2021, 38% of 18-24-year-olds were enrolled in college.Note Reference [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.

What percent of students go to college after high school?

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

How many people don't go to college?

In 2021, roughly 62% of people ages 18-24 were not enrolled in college.Note Reference [3] According to the Census Bureau's population estimates, that's about 19.3 million people.[12]