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The Condition of Education Reports Show Gains in Higher Education Enrollment and Degree Attainment

June 4, 2009

More students than ever are entering postsecondary education, and a greater share of those who enroll are earning bachelor's degrees or higher, according to "The Condition of Education 2009." This new report, produced by the National Center for Education Statistics, finds that the share of high school graduates immediately enrolling in college jumped from 49 percent in 1972 to 67 percent in 2007, and total undergraduate enrollment increased from 7.4 million in 1970 to 15.6 million in 2007, and is projected to grow to 17.5 million in 2018. The share of adults age 25 to 29 who hold at least a bachelor's degree increased from 17 percent to 31 percent in 2007.

"The Condition of Education" is a congressionally mandated annual report that provides a portrait of elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education in the United States. Nine of the 46 indicators included in this year's report cover higher education enrollment, degrees conferred, student financial aid, faculty salaries, and postsecondary education revenues and expenditures.

Much of the gains in postsecondary access and success have come from sharp increases in the number of women entering and succeeding in higher education. The share of the total undergraduate student body who were women grew from 42 percent in 1970 to 57 percent in 2007, and the number of bachelor's degrees conferred to female recipients grew 33 percent, from 1997 to 2007. The total number of baccalaureates earned by all graduates grew 30 percent in this time span.

Increases in student financial aid, particularly aid funded directly by postsecondary institutions, helped fuel the rise in college enrollments and degrees. In 1992-93, about 17 percent of full-time undergraduates attending public four-year institutions, and 47 percent of those at private non-profit four-year colleges and universities, received institutionally funded aid. By 1999-2000, the respective proportions had increased to 23 and 58 percent. During this period, the average institutional aid award (adjusted for inflation) increased from $2,200 to $2,700 at public institutions and from $5,900 to $7,000 at private not-for-profit institutions.

While financial aid awards increased, faculty salaries were essentially flat in recent years. After adjusting for inflation, average pay for faculty members grew just 2 percent between 2000 and 2008. This compares with gains of 14 percent during the 1980s and 5 percent in the 1990s. In academic year 2007-08, the average faculty salary at four-year private non-profit doctoral-granting universities was $93,700, compared with $79,200 at public doctoral institutions and $59,600 at community colleges.

Revenues and expenditures of public and private non-profit higher education institutions saw shifts during the past decade. Tuition and fee payments grew from about 16 percent of total revenue at all public institutions in 2000 to 17 percent in 2007, while state appropriations fell from 24 percent to 23 percent. At all private non-profit colleges and universities, tuition and fee dollars increased from 25 percent of total revenue to 26 percent, while the share of total operating funds from private gifts declined from 14 percent to 11 percent. At both public and private non-profit institutions, spending on instruction was one of the fastest growing expenditure items during the past decade, followed by academic support and student services.

A full copy of "The Condition of Education 2009" is available.

The NACUBO staff resource is Ken Redd