College Capacity Grows

September 12, 2007

Report after report portrays the American higher education system as facing a major crisis in its inability to ramp up how many Americans they educate, as the number of high-school-age and adult students grows -- and their academic preparation is perceived as declining. While the system may not be growing fast enough to satisfy those concerns, data continue to suggest that the capacity of America's colleges is expanding.

A report released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the number of American postsecondary institutions grew by 1.5 percent from fall 2005 to fall 2006, and that the number of degrees they awarded grew by 3 percent from academic 2004-5 to academic 2005-6.

Almost all of the growth in the number of institutions came in the for-profit sector, as seen in the table below, although the institutions continue to educate a relatively small proportion of the overall total college population:

Number of Colleges in the United States, 2005 and 2006, by Institution Type

  Fall 2005 Fall 2006 % Change
Institution Type      
--4-year public 639 644 0.7%
--4-year private nonprofit 1,547 1,548 0.1%
--4-year private for-profit 414 453 9.4%
--2-year public 1,153 1,148 -0.4%
--2-year private nonprofit 219 211 -3.6%
--2-year private for-profit 816 844 3.4%
--Less than 2-year public 218 217 -0.5%
--Less than 2-year private nonprofit 96 89 -7.3%
--Less than 2-year private for-profit 1,346 1,382 2.7%
Total 6,441 6,536 1.5%

Note: 2005 total figure excluded 22 institutions that were unable to respond because of natural disasters, mostly Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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Institutions of all types, however, expanded the number of degrees they granted, as seen in this table:

Degrees Conferred at U.S. Colleges and Universities, 2004-5 and 2005-6

  2005 2006 % Change
Type of Institution      
-4-year, all 2,293,350 2,371,219 3.4%
--4-year public 1,347,129 1,377,827 2.3%
--4-year private nonprofit 812,140 832,232 2.5%
--4-year private for-profit 134,081 161,160 20%
-2-year, all 557,172 564,964 1.4%
--2-year public 491,904 498,287 1.3%
--2-year private nonprofit 10,009 9,216 -7.9%
--2-year private for-profit 55,259 57,461 4.0%
       
Type of degree      
Associate 696,720 713,154 2.4%
Bachelor's 1,439,264 1,485,242 3.2%
Master's 574,618 594,065 3.4%
Doctorates 52,631 56,067 6.5%
First Professional 87,289 87,655 0.4%

The proportion of degrees going to women and to members of minority groups continued to edge up. Women received 57.8 percent of all degrees awarded by four-year institutions in 2005-6 (up from 57.4 percent in 2004-5) and 62.7 percent of the degrees awarded by two-year colleges, up from 62.6. White students received 65 percent of the degrees awarded by four-year colleges, down from 65.5 percent, while 9.1 percent went to black students (up from 8.9 percent in 2004-5), 6.4 percent to Hispanic students (6.3), 6.1 percent to Asian/Pacific Islanders (6.0) and 0.7 percent to American Indian/Alaskan Natives (0.7).

The proportion awarded to people whose race or ethnicity was unknown rose to 6.9 percent from 6.6 percent, while the proportion going to nonresident aliens shrank to 5.8 percent from 6 percent.

The Education Department report, "Postsecondary Institutions in the United States: Fall 2006 and Degrees and Other Awards Conferred: 2005-06," contains a wealth of other data on tuition prices and other costs to students, most of which overlaps with previous reports by the College Board. The federal report contains price data on for-profit colleges, however, that the College Board study does not include.

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