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U.S. Department of Education
Updated August 1, 2003

Post-Secondary Education Statistics in 2001

Postsecondary education includes an array of diverse educational experiences, including a wide range of programs offered by American colleges and universities. For example, a community college may offer vocational training or the first 2 years of training at the college level. A university typically offers a full undergraduate course of study leading to a bachelor's degree as well as first-professional and graduate programs leading to advanced degrees. Vocational and technical institutions offer training programs that are designed to prepare students for specific careers. Community groups, religious organizations, libraries, and businesses provide other types of educational opportunities for adults.

This chapter provides an overview of the latest statistics on postsecondary education, which includes academic, vocational, and continuing professional education programs after high school. However, to maintain comparability over time, most of the data in the Digest are for degree-granting institutions, which include 2- and 4-year colleges and universities and exclude most vocational and continuing education programs. 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 and use of computers by young adults. Further information on survey methodologies is presented in the "Guide to Sources" in the appendix and in the publications cited in the source notes.


Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 17 percent between 1979 and 1989. Between 1989 and 1999, enrollment increased at a slightly slower rate (9 percent), from 13.5 million to 14.8 million. There was a slight decline in enrollment from 1992 to 1995, but it was overshadowed by large increases in the late 1990s. Much of this growth was in female enrollment (table 172). Between 1989 and 1999, the number of men enrolled rose 5 percent, while the number of women increased by 13 percent. Part-time enrollment rose by 2 percent compared to an increase of 15 percent in full-time enrollment. In addition to the enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 414,000 students attended non degree-granting, Title IV eligible,* postsecondary institutions in fall 1999 (table 170).

The number of young students has been growing more rapidly than the number of older students, and this pattern is expected to continue. Between 1990 and 1999, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 12 percent. Enrollment of persons 25 and over rose by less than 1 percent during the same period. From 1999 to 2010, NCES projects a rise of 21 percent in enrollments of persons under 25 and an increase of 14 percent in the number 25 and over (table 174).

Enrollment trends have differed at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional levels. Undergraduate enrollment generally increased during the 1970s, but dipped slightly between 1983 and 1985. From 1985 to 1992, undergraduate enrollment increased each year, rising 18 percent before declining slightly and stabilizing between 1993 and 1998. Undergraduate enrollment rose 2 percent between 1998 and 1999 (table 188). Graduate enrollment had been steady at about 1.3 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 31 percent between 1985 and 1999 (table 189). After rising very rapidly during the 1970s, enrollment in first-professional programs stabilized in the 1980s. First-professional enrollment began rising again in the 1990s and showed an increase of 11 percent between 1990 and 1999 (table 190).

Since 1984, the number of women in graduate schools has exceeded the number of men. Between 1989 and 1999, the number of male full-time graduate students increased by 18 percent, compared to 59 percent for full-time women. Among part-time graduate students, the number of men increased by less than 1 percent compared to a 14 percent increase for women (table 189).

The proportion of American college students who are minorities has been increasing. In 1976, 16 percent were minorities, compared with 28 percent in 1999. Much of the change can be attributed to rising numbers of Hispanic and Asian students. The proportion of Asian and Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent, and the Hispanic proportion rose from 4 percent to 9 percent during that time period. The proportion of black students fluctuated during most of the early part of the period, before rising slightly to 11 percent in 1999. These percentages exclude foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities (table 207).

Despite the sizable numbers of small degree-granting colleges, most students attend the larger colleges and universities. In fall 1999, 40 percent of institutions had fewer than 1,000 students; however, these campuses enrolled 4 percent of college students. While 10 percent of the campuses enrolled 10,000 or more students, they accounted for 50 percent of total college enrollment (table 215).

Faculty, Staff, and Salaries

The student/staff ratio at colleges and universities dropped from 5.4 in 1976 to 4.8 in 1999. During the same time period, the student/faculty ratio dropped from 16.6 to 14.9. The proportion of administrative staff and other nonteaching professional staff rose from 15 percent in 1976 to 24 percent in 1999, while the proportion of nonprofessional staff declined from 42 percent to 32 percent (table 224).

Approximately 2.9 million people were employed in colleges and universities in the fall of 1999, including 2.0 million professional and .9 million nonprofessional staff. About 44 percent of the staff were faculty or teaching assistants, 6 percent were managerial, 18 percent were other nonteaching professionals, and 32 percent were nonprofessional staff (table 226).

Colleges differ in their practices of employing part-time and full-time staff. In fall 1999, 50 percent of the employees at public 2-year colleges were employed full-time compared with 70 percent at public 4-year colleges and 71 percent at private 4-year colleges. A higher proportion of the faculty at public 4-year colleges were employed full-time (73 percent) than at private 4-year colleges (59 percent) or public 2-year colleges (35 percent) (table 226).

The proportion of time that full-time instructional faculty and staff spent teaching averaged 57 percent in 1998. For the remaining faculty time, research and scholarship accounted for 15 percent of the time; professional growth, 5 percent; administration, 14 percent; outside consulting, 3 percent; service and nonteaching activities, 7 percent (table 233).

About 14 percent of U.S. faculty in colleges and universities were minorities in 1999 (based on a total excluding nonresident aliens and persons whose race/ethnicity was unknown). Five percent of the faculty were black; 5 percent, Asian/Pacific Islanders; 3 percent, Hispanic; and .5 percent, American Indian/Alaskan Native. Half of college faculty (50 percent) were white males, while 35 percent were white females. About 15 percent of executive, managerial, and administrative staff were minorities in 1999, compared to about 30 percent of the nonprofessional staff. The proportion of minority staff at public 4-year colleges (22 percent) was similar to the proportion at private 4-year colleges (20 percent) (table 225).

College faculty generally suffered losses in the purchasing power of their salaries from 1972-73 to 1980-81, when average salaries fell 17 percent after adjustment for inflation. During the 1980s, average salaries rose and recouped most of the losses. Between 1992-93 and 1998-99, there was a slight increase in average faculty salaries, reaching about 2 percent higher than in 1972-73. Average salaries for men in 1998-99 ($58,048) were considerably higher than the average for women ($47,421), but women's salaries have increased at a slightly faster rate since 1990-91 (table 237).

The proportion of faculty with tenure has remained relatively stable in recent years. About 64 percent of full-time faculty had tenure in 1998-99, but a large difference existed between the proportion of men and women with tenure. Seventy-one percent of men compared with 52 percent of women had tenure in 1998-99. About 66 percent of the faculty at public institutions had tenure, compared with 58 percent of faculty at private institutions (table 243).


During the 2000-01 academic year, 4,182 accredited institutions offered degrees at the associate degree level or above. These included 2,450 4-year colleges and universities, and 1,732 2-year colleges (table 245). Institutions awarding various degrees in 1999-2000 numbered 2,546 for associate degrees, 1,995 for bachelor's degrees, 1,499 for master's degrees, and 535 for doctor's degrees (table 262).

More people are completing college. Between 1989-90 and 1999-2000, the number of associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees rose. Associate degrees increased 24 percent, bachelor's degrees increased 18 percent, master's degrees increased 41 percent, and doctor's degrees increased 17 percent during this period. The number of first-professional degrees was 13 percent higher in 1999-2000 than it was in 1989-90 (table 247).

More women than men earn associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Also, the number of women receiving all types of degrees has increased at a faster rate than for men. Between 1989-90 and 1999-2000 the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to men increased by 8 percent, while those awarded to women rose by 26 percent (table 247).

Of the 1,238,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 1999-2000, the largest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (258,000), social sciences (127,000), and education (108,000) (table 255). At the master's degree level, the largest fields were education (124,000) and business (112,000) (table 256). The largest fields at the doctor's degree level were education (6,800), engineering (5,400), biological and life sciences (4,900) and psychology (4,300) (table 257).

The pattern of bachelor's degrees by field of study has shifted significantly in recent years. Declines are significant in some fields such as engineering and mathematics. Engineering and engineering technologies declined 4 percent between 1989-90 and 1994-95, and then posted a further 7 percent decline between 1994-95 and 1999-2000. The number of mathematics degrees declined by 10 percent between 1989-90 and 1994-95 and posted a further 12 percent decline between 1994-95 and 1999-2000. In contrast, some technical fields have increased. After declining by 10 percent between 1989-90 and 1994-95, the number of degrees in computer and information sciences grew 48 percent between 1994-95 and 1999-2000. Other sizable fields with increases over 20 percent between 1994-95 and 1999-2000 included: parks, recreation, and leisure studies; agriculture and natural sciences; theological professions; and visual and performing arts (table 255).

About three-quarters (77 percent) of the students who enrolled in a 4-year college in 1995-96 were still working on their degrees in spring 1998. About 4 percent of students had completed a certificate or degree and 18 percent were no longer working towards a bachelor's degree (table 314).


For the 2000-01 academic year, annual prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated to be $7,621 at public colleges and $21,423 at private colleges. Between 1990-91 and 2000-01, prices at public colleges rose by 23 percent, and prices at private colleges increased by 27 percent, after adjustment for inflation (tables 35 and 316).

Trend data show increases in the expenditures per student at colleges and universities through the late 1980s and further increases after 1991-92. After an adjustment for inflation at colleges and universities, current-fund expenditures per student rose about 5 percent between 1985-86 and 1990-91, and another 7 percent between 1990-91 and 1995-96 (table 343).

Scholarships and fellowships rose more rapidly at public institutions than most other types of college expenditures. At public universities, between 1986-87 and 1996-97, inflation adjusted scholarship and fellowship expenditures per full-time-equivalent student rose 85 percent compared with 8 percent for instruction expenditures per student (table 349). At other public 4-year institutions during the same period, scholarship and fellowship costs per student rose 109 percent, and the instruction costs rose by 2 percent (table 350). Another rapidly rising expenditure for public colleges during the decade was research, which rose by 26 percent per student at public universities, and by 36 percent at other public 4-year colleges (tables 349 and 350). 

Tables for this chapter may be found here.

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.

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