The number of students enrolled in American colleges and universities was 1.6 percent lower in 2011-12 than it was the year before, but the number of degrees conferred by those institutions was up 5.1 percent, new data from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics shows. The statistics, published in a report that also presents data on tuition levels, show that colleges that award federal financial aid enrolled a total unduplicated headcount of about 29 million students in 2011-12, down from more than 29.5 million in 2010-11. The biggest drops came among public two-year (down about 250,000 students) and private for-profit (about 200,000 students) colleges, with public four-year universities gaining about 100,000 students and private four-year colleges up slightly. The declines for men and women were roughly proportional.
But despite the smaller pool of students, degree completion increased. The colleges awarded slightly more than 1 million associate degrees (nearly 8 percent more than in 2010-11), and nearly 1.8 million bachelor's degrees, 4.3 percent more than the year before.