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Building Capacity, Slowly

Building Capacity, Slowly
March 11, 2009

On a day that President Obama reinforced his call to increase the number of Americans in college, the federal government released data showing that higher education's capacity is growing, albeit too slowly to meet the goal set by the president and others.

The data also continue to show that a disproportionate share of the growth can be attributed to for-profit colleges, which are expanding at a rapid clip.

In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Obama reiterated his goal of having every American attend at least one year of college and having the country reclaim its mantle as the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates. To reach that goal, which has also been a focus of groups like the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the college going rate would have to increase by significantly more than half over the next 15 years.

Data released by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics Tuesday show higher education capacity growing at a significantly slower rate than that. The annual report, "Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2007; Graduation Rates, 2001 & 2004 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2007," offers a first glimpse at data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which is the government's primary method for tracking a variety of student and institutional data.

According to the report, colleges and universities that qualify to award federal financial aid enrolled nearly 18.7 million students in fall 2007, up about 2.6 percent from 2006 and about 5.42 percent since 2004’s total of 17.7 million.

Enrollment at publicly supported institutions grew by 2.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, enrollment at private nonprofit colleges increased by 1.5 percent, and enrollment at private for-profit colleges rose by 7.22 percent. For-profit institutions have maintained that pace over a three year period, and since 2004, their share of all enrollments grew to 7.9 percent of the total college population, up from 6.7 percent.

Enrollments grew slightly faster at four-year than at two-year colleges, and they shrank at institutions that offer less than two-year degrees, as shown in the table below:

Enrollment at Colleges That Award Federal Financial Aid, 2004-7

Institution Type 2007 2006 2004 1-year % change 3-Year % change
Total 18,670,775 18,205,474 17,710,798 2.56% 5.42%
--Public 13,595,540 13,281,664 13,081,358 2.36% 3.93%
--Private 3,595,207 3,543,455 3,440,559 1.46% 4.49%
--For-profit 1,480,028 1,380,355 1,188,881 7.22% 24.49%
4-year colleges 11,630,585 11,240,834 10,726,683 3.47% 8.43%
--Undergraduate 8,986,267 8,666,183 8,235,301 3.69% 9.12%
----Public 5,813,773 5,622,555 5,407,236 3.40% 7.52%
----Private 2,436,958 2,409,256 2,347,309 1.15% 3.82%
----For-profit 735,536 634,372 480,756 15.95% 53.00%
--Graduate 2,293,554 2,231,205 2,156,853 2.79% 6.34%
----Public 1,210,278 1,192,757 1,193,584 1.47% 1.40%
----Private 895,197 863,300 825,093 3.69% 8.50%
----For-profit 188,079 175,148 138,176 7.38% 36.12%
--First professional 350,764 343,446 334,529 2.13% 4.85%
2-year colleges 6,740,309 6,650,734 6,656,105 1.35% 1.27%
--Public 6,374,245 6,276,185 6,282,576 1.56% 1.46%
--Private 44,843 55,507 56,705 -19.21% -20.92%
--For-profit 321,221 319,042 316,824 0.68% 1.39%
Less than 2 year 299,881 313,906 328,010 -4.47% -8.58%
--Public 54,598 50,431 62,206 8.26% -12.23%
--Private 12,349 13,769 14,005 -10.31% -11.82%
--For-profit 232,934 249,706 251,799 -6.72% -7.49%

The proportion of students enrolled part time continued to grow, and grew fastest at four-year institutions, though part-time students remained more than twice as likely to be enrolled at two-year colleges as at four-year universities, as seen below:

Enrollment by Institution Type, Status, and Student Age

  2007 2006 2004 1-Year % Change 3-Year % Change
4-year undergraduates        
--Full time 7,148,604 6,928,029 6,601,064 3.18% 4.95%
--Part time 1,837,663 1,738,154 1,634,237 5.72% 6.36%
4-year graduate        
--Full time 1,112,532 1,077,313 1,024,505 3.27% 5.15%
--Part time 1,181,022 1,153,892 1,132,348 2.35% 1.90%
4-year first professional        
--Full time 316,549 309,158 301,543 2.39% 2.53%
--Part time 34,215 34,288 32,986 -0.21% 3.95%
2-year          
--Full time 2,789,393 2,766,389 2,773,407 0.83% -0.25%
--Part time 3,950,916 3,884,243 3,882,405 1.72% 0.05%
Less than 2 year        
--Full time 239,241 255,526 266,633 -6.37% -4.17%
--Part time 60,640 58,380 61,377 3.87% -4.88%

New data published for the first time in this year’s report – which therefore cannot be compared to previous years – show that students aged 24 or under make up 69 percent of students at public four-year colleges, 61 percent of students at four-year private institutions, 59 percent of students at two-year public colleges, and 27 percent of enrollees at four-year for-profit institutions. At community colleges, however, the under-24 crowd is split evenly between full-time and part-time students, while at the other institutions, the vast majority of traditional age students attend full time.

The Education Department report also contains statistics on student graduation rates, which remain largely unchanged from the previous recent years. As seen in the table below, full-time, first-time students who entered higher education in 2001 were likeliest to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years at private nonprofit colleges, followed by four-year public colleges and for-profit institutions.

Asian American students are likeliest to earn degrees within six years, followed by white students and nonresident aliens.

Six-Year Graduation Rates at 4-Year Colleges That Award Federal Aid, 2007

  Total White Black Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander American Indian/Alaska Native Race Unknown Nonresident alien
4-year institutions 56.1% 59.4% 40.5% 46.9% 65.5% 38.6% 48.7% 58.5%  
--Public 53.5% 56.2% 38.4% 43.1% 63.4% 34.9% 53.0% 53.1%  
----Men 50.1% 53.0% 31.4% 38.6% 59.4% 31.6% 49.8% 50.9%  
----Women 56.4% 59.0% 43.1% 46.5% 66.9% 37.5% 55.9% 56.1%  
--Private nonprofit 63.7% 66.6% 45.0% 57.0% 74.4% 46.4% 59.4% 67.0%  
----Men 60.9% 64.0% 38.6% 53.4% 71.8% 42.0% 57.1% 63.4%  
----Women 66.0% 68.7% 49.3% 59.4% 76.3% 49.5% 61.4% 70.9%  
--Private for-profit 43.7% 52.2% 40.3% 46.0% 48.5% 49.3% 25.7% 36.3%  
----Men 44.9% 53.4% 38.7% 46.2% 49.8% 45.2% 28.0% 35.2%  
----Women 42.1% 50.5% 41.7% 45.8% 46.8% 53.1% 23.2% 37.4%  

 

 

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