15+ Higher Education Statistics to Cultivate Your Mind
Updated · May 20, 2023
College students constitute approximately 5% of the total US population at any given time.
It may not sound particularly impressive, but don’t forget that—for most people—university typically lasts four years or less.
When it comes to the total number of Americans with a degree, that’s far more impressive.
Go through our carefully selected collection of higher education statistics to learn just how educated—and indebted—people in the US are.
Hyped Higher Education Stats (Editor’s Choice)
- College enrollment in the United States has declined by 7.4% since the start of the pandemic.
- Agricultural degrees attracted 41% more students in 2021.
- The average student owes $28,950 in loans.
- 2.4 million citizens who are 62 years of age or older still owe student debt.
- There are 455.9% more Hispanics in higher education than in 1976.
- There are 16.2 million active postsecondary students in the US.
- 70.5% of international students in the US are Asians.
- Canada is the most educated country in the world.
- Worldwide, 220 million people are enrolled in tertiary education institutions.
- There are 31,097 universities around the world.
College Enrollment Statistics
It seems like there are two types of people in the world: the ones who believe that a good university degree will secure people’s financial features and the ones who believe that it’s a waste of time—especially since Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and other notorious millionaires are, in fact, college drop-outs.
No matter which of these two groups you identify with, here’s what you should know about college enrollment in 2022.
1. There are 16.2 million active postsecondary students in the US.
(Source: Education Data)
Back in 2000, there were just 15.3 million students in the United States enrolled in college. Exactly one decade later, the number had gone up to 21.02 million. But then 2020 came, and enrollment saw a 7.4% drop, as the pandemic prompted 1.3 million students to postpone or outright abandon their academic pursuits.
As of spring 2022, there are around 16.2 million college students. In other words, it’s like we’ve gone back 20 years where postsecondary education is concerned.
Worse yet, some analysts expect universities to see college enrollment decline even more towards the end of the decade as a consequence of the slump in birth rates that began in 2008.
2. Computer sciences enrollments went up 7.8%.
Even though college enrollment as a whole is down, certain four-year majors saw an uptick in popularity in 2022. Computer sciences went up by 7.8%, visual and performing arts enrollees rose by 5.7%, and psychology majors are up 4%.
On the other hand, humanities and social studies experienced a -4.2% and a -2.3% drop, respectively.
As for two-year degrees, agricultural and construction programs also saw a boost in popularity. The former attracted 41% more students, the latter 18%.
Fun fact: In the US, 10.4% of people aged 25+ have only two-year degrees.
3. Michigan has lost 15.5% of its students.
A look at higher education statistics from various states across the country reveals stark contrasts. The enrollment decline hit Michigan by far the hardest, with the state losing 15.5% of its students. California is the second most affected state: its student population dropped by 8.1%.
Indiana (+10.7%), Colorado (+9%), and New Hampshire (+8.2%) are among the few lucky states where student numbers swelled.
4. Massachusetts is the most educated state in the country.
(Source: World Population Review)
Massachusetts’ average tertiary degree (bachelor's degree or higher) attainment rate is 44%. Colorado (41%), Maryland (40%), and New Jersey (40%) follow behind.
The least educated states are West Virginia (21%), Mississippi (22%), Arkansas (23%), Louisiana (24%), and Kentucky (24%).
Fun fact: If we counted high school graduates towards each state’s educatedness level, Montana would come out on top with a 94% attainment rate.
5. The largest university in the US is home to 63,124 students.
(Source: US News)
The average college campus size is 6,354 students. However, some colleges (mostly public ones) are far, far more populous. In fact, some of them can even rival the populations of entire towns.
If we order the most popular colleges by enrollment numbers, Arizona State University ranks first with 63,124 students. Up next are Arizona State University and the University of Central Florida, each with more than 55,000 students.
Fun fact: Three of the top 10 most populous universities are in Texas, which is understandable given that it’s the second most populated state in the country. What’s surprising, though, is that none of the universities on the shortlist is in California—the state with the largest population.
Debt-Centered Student Statistics
The vast majority of Americans cannot afford higher education without taking out a several-thousand-dollar loan. This can be a federal or a private loan, or in some cases—both.
Let’s see what’s the financial toll that students take on.
6. 70% of Americans are in debt when graduating from college.
As of 2022, the average student debt in the country is $28,950.
However, the amount varies significantly by state. For instance, the average in New Hampshire is $39,928, but just $18,344 in Utah.
All in all, US citizens owe a total of $1.75 trillion in student debt.
Worrisome fact: Between credit cards, student loans, and mortgages, the average consumer debt goes up to $93,000! So, we can see why people are turning toward personal and business loans.
7. More than two million senior citizens have yet to pay their student debt.
If the last stat wasn’t depressing enough, here are some more dreary student debt statistics:
In the US, there are 41.2 million people who are 62+ years old. Approximately 5% of them (or 2.4 million) still owe student debt. The combined value of the loans to be paid equals $98 billion.
This means that each of them owes roughly $40,000 on average—that’s far more than the national average across all age groups.
The most likely explanation is accumulating interest.
By now, you know how many students there are, how much they owe, and where they go when they want to try out the international experience.
But now it’s time to get down to who these students are.
8. The average undergraduate student is 22.71 years old.
(Source: National Student Clearinghouse)
At the undergraduate level, the average college student is 22 years and eight-and-a-half months—if they’re full-time students, that is. On the other hand, part-time enrollees tend to be 27+ years old.
At the graduate (master's and doctoral) level, the average full-time student is 30.44 years old, whereas part-time graduate students are typically 35.49 years old.
9. There were 1,075,496 international students in the US prior to the pandemic.
As the number of students in colleges across the US has fallen, so has the number of international students.
The number of foreign students was steadily rising until 2016 when severe restrictions and anti-immigration policies led to a 5% shrinkage in numbers.
Following the pandemic, new international enrollments have gone down a further 45%. In other words (or rather, numbers), 290,836 international students joined the US higher education system in 2016, but just 145,528 did in 2020.
Fun fact: According to enrollment data from other countries in the anglosphere, such as Canada and Australia, are doing perfectly fine. International students there have increased by 73% and 66%, respectively, since 2015.
10. The vast majority of international students in the US are Asians.
(Source: Education Data)
More specifically, 70.5% of international students in the country are Asian—half of them are Chinese, and a quarter of them are Indian.
Statistics show that there are 700% more Asians in US colleges now than in 1980. This is the single largest jump in college attendance rates out of all racial groups.
On the other end of the spectrum sit Central Africans, who comprise a mere 0.29% of the total—although, there are still 172% more of them than there were four decades ago.
11. There are 455.9% more Hispanics in higher education than in 1976.
(Source: Education Data)
Analyzing college enrollment by race shows that Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups. Back in 1976, Hispanic people represented 4% of the total student population. Today, they represent about 20%.
However, the pandemic affected this demographic group much the same as everyone else: there were 5.3% fewer new Hispanic undergraduates in 2021 compared to 2020.
Fun fact: White people are more likely to have higher education. Specifically, they were 55% more likely than Blacks and 114% more likely than Hispanics to earn a University degree in 2019.
Higher Education Trends Around the Globe
With an ever-rising population, the world will naturally see an ever-rising number of people pursuing tertiary degrees, too—or will they?
Read along for key insights on how the world is handling higher education.
12. Worldwide, 220 million people are enrolled in tertiary education institutions.
(Source: World Bank)
Just two decades ago, in 2000, the number stood at 100 million. The change hasn’t been that drastic all over the world, though. Certain regions, such as Latin America, have seen student bodies double in size.
Of course, the planet’s population has also grown by nearly two billion in the last 20 years, so, understandably, more people are pursuing their education all around the world.
13. There are 31,097 universities on Earth.
More than a tenth of them are located in the US, boasting 3,216 colleges. Now, 56 of those rank in the top 100 universities in the world, meaning that the rest of the world combined is home to the remaining 44.
That said, over three-quarters of all American colleges fail to rank even in the top 5,000. Sweden, for comparison, has 31 tertiary institutions in the top 5,000 and only 16 below that threshold (i.e., a third of the total), suggesting the higher quality of education on average.
14. Canada is the most educated country in the world.
We admit this one might sound a tad weird since there isn’t a default, widely agreed-upon way of measuring the educatedness of a country. That said, several studies do exist on the topic.
For instance, the OECD publishes a ranking of countries by the percentage of tertiary education attainment among their populations. By this standard, the most educated countries in the world are Canada (with 59.96% of adults aged 25-64 holding a degree), Russia (56.73%), and Japan (52.68%).
In case you were wondering, the United States ranks seventh (50.06%).
15. In 2020, 53.1% fewer US students went on an exchange program.
(Source: IIE Open Doors)
Higher education data suggests that, before the pandemic, nearly 350,000 Americans would study abroad every year. In 2020, just 162,633 did.
Curiously, students’ preferred destinations remain identical—more than half of study abroad students choose to go to Europe (Spain, Italy, and the UK being the most popular destinations), whereas 13% or so go to Latin America (Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina).
16. In the US, the parents of 42% of bachelor’s degree recipients had no higher education.
Curiously, higher education stats suggest this trend is likely to change in the opposite direction in another generation and then back again.
Since 2010, young people have begun skipping college and moving straight to the workforce, but they are often the offspring of highly-educated citizens. And yet, when they eventually have kids and go off to college, they’ll have no higher education, making a full circle.
Did you recognize yourself in any of the stats we talked about? Let’s be honest: you most certainly did—we at Web Tribunal just hope it wasn’t the ones about debt.
This concludes our compilation of higher education statistics, but it hardly concludes our journey of learning. Don’t forget that anybody can go back to school anytime and attain a degree.
So, if you’ve got some free time—and a lot of spare cash—it might be worth looking into what your local universities have to offer.
A wayfarer by heart, Jordan fancies journeying into foreign lands with a camera in hand almost as much as he enjoys roving the online world. He spends his time poking at letters and pixels, trying to transmogrify them into something cool.