College Graduation Statistics

General Statistics

  • In 2019, approximately 3.9 million students graduated with a college degree in the US. Among the degrees conferred:
    • 989,000 were associate’s degrees
    • 1.9 million were bachelor’s degrees
    • 820,000 were master’s degrees
    • 184,000 were doctorate degrees
  • In 2019, 35% of the US population had completed 4 years of college or more. Comparatively, in 1940, this number was only 4.6% of the population
  • Approximately 16.76 million students enrolled in undergraduate studies in 2018:
    • 10.3 million enrolled full-time, in contrast to 6.3 million enrolled part-time
  • In 2017, 67% of recent high school graduates that enrolled in college, compared to 70% in 2016
    • 23% enrolled in 2-year institutions in 2017, compared to 24% in 2016
    • 44% enrolled in 4-year institutions in 2017, compared to 46% in 2016
  • Only 41% of students graduate from a 4-year college within 4 years
  • In 2018, the retention rates for the national cohort of first-time degree seekers enrolling in all types of institutions were:
    • 2.18 million full-time students enrolled in 2017, and 1.64 returned in 2018
    • 404,081 part-time students enrolled in 2017, and 182,838 returned in 2018
  • In OECD studies, the US ranks 19th in college graduation rates
  • In 2017, the retention rate of first-time undergraduates at 4-year institutions was approximately 81%
  • The average graduation rate (within 6 years) 4-year institutions was 60.4%
  • In 2017, the retention rate of first-time undergraduates at 2-year schools was approximately 62.5%
  • The average graduation rate (within 150% of usual degree completion time) at 2-year institutions for first-time, full-time students was 31.6% in 2017
  • The top 5 metro areas in the United States with the highest percentage of college graduates are:
    • 62.5% Boulder, CO
    • 56.4% Ann Arbor, MI
    • 56.2% Lawrence, KS
    • 53.4% Corvallis, OR
    • 52.8% San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, CA

College Graduates Per Year: Enrollment By Institution

  • In 2018, 19.6 million students enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary colleges:
    • 14.5 million enrolled in public institutions:
      • 2.8 million enrolled in very high-level research universities
      • 1.3 million enrolled in high-level research universities
      • 634,802 enrolled in doctoral/research programs
      • 2.5 million enrolled in master’s degree programs
      • 1.5 million enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs
      • 94,377 enrolled in special focus single-field-of-study programs
      • 5.4 million enrolled in 2-year degree or certificate programs
    • 4.1 million enrolled in private, nonprofit institutions:
      • 645,546 enrolled in very high-level research universities
      • 329,064 enrolled in high-level research universities
      • 451,943 enrolled in doctoral/research programs
      • 1.6 million enrolled in master’s degree programs
      • 653,475 enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs
      • 393,000 enrolled in special focus single-field-of-study programs
      • 45,154 enrolled in 2-year degree or certificate programs
    • 982,410 students enrolled in for-profit institutions:
      • 829,060 enrolled in 4-year institutions
      • 153,350 enrolled in 2-year institutions

College Graduates Per Year: Over Time

Since 1940, the percentage of Americans over age 25 who had graduated from college increased rapidly. By 2015, female graduates outnumbered male graduates.

  • 2029 enrollment projections include:
    • 14.8 million in public institutions and 5.22 million in private institutions
    • 4 million degrees conferred in 2028-2029

To illustrate how far the level of education has progressed in the United States, consider that 120 years ago in 1900 there were only 27,410 bachelor’s degrees awarded nationwide. Overwhelmingly, 22,173 (80.9%) of these graduates were male and 5,237 (19.1%) were women.

College Graduates Per Year: Demographics

Type of Degree & Field of Study

  • Undergraduate students in these college majors are the least likely to graduate:
    • 9.7% of students majoring in commercial art and graphic design   
    • 11% of students majoring in miscellaneous industrial arts and consumer services           
    • 11.6% of students majoring in hospitality management       
    • 15.2% of students majoring in marketing and marketing research   
    • 16% of students majoring in film, video, and photographic arts   
    • 16.4% of students majoring in advertising and public relations        
    • 16.7% of students majoring in transportation sciences and technologies    
    • 17.1% of students majoring in mechanical engineering-related technologies        
    • 17.3% of students majoring in miscellaneous computer       
    • 18.1% of students majoring in industrial production technologies  

2-Year/Community Colleges & Associate’s Degrees

In 2018, 2-year/community colleges conferred:

  • 852,504 associate degrees
  • 579,822 certificates
  • 19,083 baccalaureate degrees

At 2-year institutions, popular fields of study included business, health professions/biosciences, engineering, homeland security, education, general studies, and liberal arts.

4-Year Colleges & Bachelor’s Degrees

Among both 4-year private and 4-year public institutions, the 6-year graduation rate for full-time first-time undergrad students seeking a bachelor’s degree increased by 2% between 2010-17.

In 2018, 1.9 million students graduated with bachelor’s degrees in the US. Among these, the most popular fields of study included:

  • Business with 386,201 degrees awarded
  • Health professions and related programs with 244,909 degrees awarded
  • Social sciences and history with 159,967 degrees awarded
  • Engineering with 121,956 degrees awarded
  • Biological and biomedical sciences with 118,663 degrees awarded
  • Psychology with 116,432 degrees awarded
  • Communication, journalism, and related programs with 92,290 degrees awarded
  • Visual and performing arts with 88,582 degrees awarded
  • Education with 82,621 degrees awarded
  • Computer and information sciences  with 79,598 degrees awarded

Master’s Degrees

In 2018, 820,102 students graduated with master’s degrees in the US. Among these, the most popular fields of study included:

  • Business with 192,184 degrees awarded
  • Education with 146,367 degrees awarded
  • Health professions and related programs with 125,216 degrees awarded
  • Engineering with 51,721 degrees awarded
  • Computer and information sciences with 46,468 degrees awarded
  • Public administration and social services with 46,294 degrees awarded
  • Psychology with 27,841 degrees awarded
  • Social sciences and history with 19,884 degrees awarded
  • Visual and performing arts with 17,686 degrees awarded
  • Biological and biomedical sciences with 17,180 degrees awarded

Doctorate Degrees

In 2018, 55,195 students graduated with doctorate degrees in the US. In short, the most popular fields of study included:

  • Biological and biomedical sciences with 8,801 degrees awarded
  • Social sciences with 5,062 degrees awarded
  • Psychology with 3,837 degrees awarded
  • Chemistry with 2,810 degrees awarded
  • Health sciences with 2,534 degrees awarded

By Age:

  • Beginning in 1970, 70% of the US population enrolled in college was initially students between ages 18 and 21
    • 37.3% of students were between ages 18-19
    • 31.9% of students were between ages 20-21
    • 14.9% of students were between ages 22-24
    • 7.5% of students were between ages 25-29
    • Finally, only 4.2% of students between ages 30-34 were students
  • The population between ages 30-34 did not change significantly during this time
    • In 2018, the percentage had increased to 6.3%, compared to 4.2% in 1970
    • This age group saw a surge in enrollment to 8.3% during the Great Recession
  • The age group between 20-21 saw the largest increase during this time of 18.6%

By Race/Ethnicity

  • Public institutions had 14.5 million students enrolled in 2018. In comparison, 4.1 million enrolled in private, nonprofit institutions:
    • 7.5 million in public institutions were white, compared to 2.3 million in private nonprofit institutions
    • 3.1 million in public institutions were Hispanic, compared to 460.431 in private nonprofit institutions
    • 1.7 million in public institutions were black, compared to 494,901 in private nonprofit institutions
    • 994,527 in public institutions were Asian, compared to 266,389 in private nonprofit institutions
    • 611,129 in public institutions were non-resident aliens, compared to 356,841 in private nonprofit institutions
    • 55,241 in public institutions were of one or more races, compared to 141,180 in private nonprofit institutions
    • 105,105 in public institutions were American Indian/Alaskan Native, compared to 19,390 in private nonprofit institutions
    • 33,274 in public institutions were Pacific Islanders, compared to 10,602 in private nonprofit institutions
  • In 2018, the enrollment by race/ethnicity in for-profit institutions was as follows:
    • 410,916 were white
    • 168,242 were Hispanic
    • 286,650 were black
    • 41,190 were Asian,
    • 24,085 were non-resident aliens
    • 24,085 were of one or more races
    • 9,256 were American Indian/Alaskan Native
    • 6,629 were Pacific Islanders

In Summary:

On average, it takes college students nearly six years to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college. Bachelor’s degrees are the most commonly awarded academic credential, following the associate’s degree, the master’s degree, and finally, the doctorate.

It is projected that degrees awarded will rise almost every year for the next several years. To illustrate, the estimates for the 2019-2020 academic year indicate a total of 3,898,000 college graduates in the United States. This represents an increase of nearly six million students from the 2015-2016 academic year.

Sources

  1. CPS Historical Time Series Tables
  2. Fast Facts
  3.  United States Census Bureau Education Tables
  4.  The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
  5. 6 Reasons You May Not Graduate on Time (and What to Do About It)