More Colleges, More Degrees

U.S. study documents continued expansion of American higher education, with most growth in for-profit sector.
December 28, 2006

Many of the recent public policy discussions about the future of higher education have asked whether higher education is growing to meet the expanding population of Americans seeking postsecondary education and training -- and have assumed that the answer is No, or at least not enough. New federal data suggest that the higher education industry is continuing to expand its capacity to meet the growing demand.

In "Postsecondary Institutions in the United States: Fall 2005 and Degrees and Other Awards Conferred: 2004-05," released Wednesday, the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, in a "first look" at the most recent data collected through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, finds that the number of colleges and universities operating in the United States grew slightly in 2005-6, to 6,441 from 6,383 in 2004-5. Over all, the number of institutions eligible to award federal student aid -- which includes institutions in Puerto Rico and several U.S. territories -- grew to 6,600, from 6,548.

Virtually all of that growth occurred in the for-profit sector of higher education, as shown in the table below:

Number of Postsecondary Institutions in U.S.

Type of institution 2005-6 2004-5
Public nonprofit 2,010 2,027
Private nonprofit 1,862 1,875
Private for-profit 2,569 2,481
Total, U.S. institutions 6,441 6,383

The growth in the number of institutions was spread fairly evenly around the country, with all regions but the Mid-Atlantic states showing increases.

The Education Department report also includes new data on the number of degrees and other awards that colleges and universities granted in 2004-5, and those figures, too, show an uptick. Over all, four-year institutions awarded a total of 2.293,350 degrees in 2004-5, up 3.6 percent from 2,213,225 in 2003-4, and two-year institutions gave out 557,172 degrees, up 2.7 percent from 542,177 in 2003-4.

Again, much of that growth occurred among commercial colleges. Although for-profit institutions awarded only a small fraction of the degrees awarded by four-year institutions in 2004-5 -- 134,081, or 5.8 percent -- that share grew from the 5.0 percent of the total they awarded in 2003-4. And that 134,081 degrees represented an increase of 20 percent from the previous year's 111,586. The number of degrees awarded by four-year public institutions grew by about 43,000, or 3 percent, while the number awarded by private nonprofit institutions grew by 14,828, or 1.9 percent.

The total number of awards of all types -- which include the gamut of educational credentials, from certificates to graduate and professional degrees -- by all types of institutions grew to 3,595,928 in 2004-5, up 3.4 percent from 3,476,732 in 2003-4.

The Education Department report also contains data on tuition, fees and price of attendance for 2005-6. Undergraduates attending private nonprofit four-year institutions paid the most on average for tuition and required fees, at $16,888, followed by those at private for-profit institutions ($13,894), out-of-state undergrads at four-year publics ($12,652), in-state students at four-year public institutions ($5,206) and in-state students at community colleges ($2,514).

Between 2003-4 and 2005-6, average tuition and fees increased by 17.4 percent for in-state undergraduates at four-year public institutions, 13.9 percent for in-district community college students, 12.2 percent for undergraduates at private nonprofit institutions, and 11 percent for four-year students at for-profit colleges. Books and supplies and other expenses were significantly higher for students at for-profit institutions.


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