January 28, 2022

Updated Statistics: U.S. Census Reports College Enrollment Declines for Second Year in a Row

From the U.S. Census:

College enrollment declined by close to half a million (463,000) between 2012 and 2013, marking the second year in a row that a drop of this magnitude has occurred. The cumulative two-year drop of 930,000 was larger than any college enrollment drop before the recent recession, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics from the Current Population Survey released today. The Census Bureau began collecting data on college enrollment in this survey in 1966.

As the nation’s students and teachers return to the classroom, the Census Bureau has published School Enrollment in the United States: 2013, detailing national-level statistics on the characteristics of students, from nursery school to graduate school. The data were collected in the October School Enrollment Supplement to the 2013 Current Population Survey.

“The drop-off in total college enrollment the last two years follows a period of expansion: between 2006 and 2011, college enrollment grew by 3.2 million,” said Kurt Bauman, chief of the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch. “This level of growth exceeded the total enrollment increase of the previous 10 years combined (2.0 million from 1996 to 2006).”

According to the new statistics, the drop in enrollment was equally divided between older and younger students.  Enrollment of students 21 and younger fell by 261,000;  the enrollment of students older than 25 fell by 247,000, not statistically different from the change in enrollment of students 21 and younger. Overall, 40 percent of those 18 to 24 were enrolled in college in fall 2013, after having reached 42 percent in 2011.

A large part of the decline took place in two-year colleges (known often as community or junior colleges). Such schools experienced a 10 percent decline in enrollment from 2012 to 2013, while enrollment at four-year colleges grew slightly (1 percent).

Hispanic college enrollment stopped its growth in 2013 after seeming to defy the overall downward trend in 2012. A larger share of Hispanic college students attend two-year schools than Asians, blacks or non-Hispanic whites, and these schools saw a sharper decline than four-year schools.

“By looking at these statistics over time, researchers can look for trends about how business cycles affect college enrollment,” Bauman said.

Hispanic college enrollment did not grow between 2012 and 2013, after having increased by 1 million during the previous five years (2007 to 2012). Black college enrollment also did not grow after a climb of 500,000 in the previous five years. College enrollment of Asians increased by 340,000 from 2007 to 2012, but also did not grow between 2012 and 2013.

The tables provide information by age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, family income, type of college, employment status, nativity, foreign-born parentage, attendance status (full or part time), control of school (public or private) and vocational course enrollment. They explore issues such as nursery school and kindergarten enrollment, the likelihood of being enrolled below modal grade and the percentage of young adults enrolled in college. Historical tables are also provided.

Other highlights include:

All levels

  • In 2013, 78 million people, or 25.9 percent of the population 3 years or older, were enrolled in school.
  • Students who were born in another country or whose parents were foreign-born made up 25.8 percent of all those enrolled in school at all levels in 2013.
  • Across all levels of enrollment, non-Hispanic whites made up 54.0 percent of students. Hispanics were 21.8 percent, blacks 15.2 percent and Asians 5.6 percent.
  • The number of blacks enrolled in school at all levels increased by 3.6 percent from 2003 to 2013. The increase was 32.1 percent for Asians and 42.3 for Hispanics over the same period.


  • In 2013, there were 4.3 million students enrolled in private elementary and high schools (kindergarten through high school), down from 4.6 million in 2012. Public school enrollment did not rise over the period.
  • In 2013, non-Hispanic white children comprised 52.7 percent of elementary school students (grades 1-8), down from 59.1 percent in 2003. Non-Hispanic white students made up 47 percent of kindergarten students in 2013, compared with 60 percent a decade earlier.


  • In 2013, there were 19.5 million college students, including 5.3 million in two-year colleges, 10.5 million in four-year colleges and 3.7 million in graduate school.
  • At the college level, 58.2 percent of students were non-Hispanic white. Hispanics comprised 16.5 percent, blacks 14.7 percent and Asians 8.1 percent.

Direct to Data Tables (Available in XLS and CSV Formats)

Also Released by U.S. Census

Higher Education: Number of students enrolled in different levels of college

More New Statistics

Just Released by Council of Graduate Schools (CGS): Graduate Schools Report Slower Growth in New Students for Fall 2013

The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) today reported a 1.0% increase in first-time enrollment between fall 2012 and fall 2013. More than 459,000 students enrolled for the first time in graduate certificate, education specialist, master’s, or doctoral programs for the fall 2013 term, according to institutions responding to the CGS/GRE Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, an annual survey that has been conducted since 1986.

Despite the gains in first-time enrollment, total graduate enrollment fell 0.2% between fall 2012 and fall 2013 following a 2.3% decline in the previous year. Total graduate enrollment was about 1.7 million students in fall 2013.


Trends by field

  • The largest one-year changes in graduate applications between fall 2012 and fall 2013 occurred in mathematics and computer sciences (11.2%), health sciences (11.0%), and physical and earth sciences (-6.3%).
  • Applications to graduate programs in business fell 0.9% between fall 2012 and fall 2013.
  • First-time enrollment in education programs decreased 2.2% for fall 2013.
  • The largest fields by total enrollment were education and business, respectively accounting for 19% and 16% of total graduate enrollment at responding institutions in fall 2013.

Trends by degree level

  • About 73% of all graduate students in fall 2013 were enrolled in programs leading to a master’s degree or a graduate certificate, according to survey respondents.
  • Responding institutions awarded approximately 71,000 doctoral degrees, 522,000 master’s degrees, and 34,000 graduate certificates in 2012-13.
  • Between fall 2012 and fall 2013, first-time enrollment decreased by 4.0% at the doctoral-level and increased by 2.0% at the master’s-level.

Student demographics

  • About 57% of all first-time graduate students in fall 2013 were women, according to survey respondents.
  • According to survey respondents, women earned nearly two-thirds (66.2%) of the graduate certificates, 59.2% of the master’s degrees, and 52.2% of the doctorates. Academic year 2012-13 marked the fifth straight year women earned a majority of doctoral degrees.
  • In fall 2013, 54% of all temporary resident graduate students were enrolled in biological and agricultural sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, physical and earth sciences. In contrast, only 16.0% of U.S. citizens/permanent residents were enrolled in these fields.

Direct to Full Text Report (122 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.