College enrollment in the United States from 1965 to 2012 and projections to 2023 for public and private colleges (in millions)

This graph shows the college enrollment for public and private schools in the United States from 1965 to 2012 with an additional forecast to 2023. In 2011, about 5.9 million students were enrolled in private colleges and 15.1 million in public colleges.


College enrollment in public and private institutions in the US

College enrollment in the United States has grown steadily from 1965 to 2011. In 2011, total enrollment was at an all time high of about 21 thousand students, about 15 thousand of whom enrolled at public institutions of higher education and about 5.9 thousand of whom enrolled at private institutions. Enrollment growth is projected to continue through 2021, with total college enrollment reaching 24 thousand students in both public and private institutions.

The landscape of US colleges and universities is diverse. In total, there were 4,600 institutions of higher education in the US in 2010. Institutions offering college education, or “postsecondary education,” vary greatly. Some institutions grant Associates degrees following two years of instruction. Undergraduate enrollment at 2-year postsecondary degree-granting institutions totaled about 8 thousand students in 2010. Other institutions offer Bachelors degrees upon the completion of a four-year course of study. Undergraduate enrollment at 4-year postsecondary degree-granting institutions reached about 10 thousand students in 2010. Universities, which offer graduate-level degrees, are often further distinguished from colleges, which offer only undergraduate (Bachelors) degrees. In 2010, the post-baccalaureate enrollment in the US reached just under 3 thousand students.

The statistic above refers to enrollment at degree-granting institutions of all types, distinguishing only between students enrolled at public and private institutions. Public institutions of higher education are funded and run by state-level government, while private institutions are not. Private institutions can be further distinguished as either for-profit or nonprofit, though that distinction is not made here. As of 2008/9, for-profit institutions accounted for only five percent of all Bachelor’s degrees granted.

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YearPublicPrivate
2023* 17.14 6.69
2022* 16.91 6.59
2021* 16.65 6.49
2020* 16.41 6.39
2019* 16.21 6.3
2018* 16 6.22
2017* 15.8 6.14
2016* 15.55 6.04
2015* 15.32 5.95
2014* 15.14 5.87
2013* 14.86 5.74
2012 14.88 5.76
2011 15.11 5.88
2010 15.14 5.87
2009 14.81 5.62
2008 13.97 5.13
2007 13.49 4.76
2006 13.18 4.58
2005 13.02 4.47
2004 12.98 4.29
2003 12.86 4.05
2002 12.75 3.86
2001 12.23 3.69
2000 11.75 3.56
1999 11.38 3.47
1998 11.14 3.37
1997 11.2 3.31
1996 11.12 3.25
1995 11.09 3.17
1994 11.13 3.15
1993 11.19 3.12
1992 11.38 3.1
1991 11.31 3.05
1990 10.84 2.97
1989 10.58 2.96
1988 10.16 2.89
1987 9.97 2.79
1986 9.71 2.79
1985 9.48 2.77
1984 9.48 2.76
1983 9.68 2.78
1982 9.7 2.73
1981 9.65 2.72
1980 9.46 2.64
1979 9.04 2.53
1978 8.79 2.47
1977 8.85 2.44
1976 8.65 2.36
1975 8.83 2.35
1974 7.99 2.24
1973 7.42 2.18
1972 7.07 2.14
1971 6.8 2.14
1970 6.43 2.15
1969 5.9 2.11
1968 5.43 2.08
1967 4.82 2.1
1966 4.35 2.04
1965 3.97 1.95
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