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The Number of Colleges Continues to Shrink

The Number of Colleges Continues to Shrink

Inside Higher Ed

Doug Lederman
August 2, 2021
The days when releases of federal data on college enrollments were newsworthy have largely passed, ever since the National Student Clearinghouse began reporting much more up-to-date information and doing so on a quarterly basis.
But the U.S. Education Department’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System remains the best source of data on many other aspects of American higher education. And its most recent release of data shows that the higher education industry is continuing to shrink — and that the for-profit sector is no longer the only one constricting.
The number of colleges and universities eligible to award federal financial aid fell to 6,063 in the just completed 2020-21 academic year, down from 6,145 in 2019-20 and 6,642 in 2017-18. Closures of for-profit colleges and universities (across the board, from those certificate-granting institutions to those that award bachelor’s degrees) accounted for about three-quarters of the 579 institutions that disappeared over that three-year period.
But public and private nonprofit colleges and universities are not immune from seeing their numbers shrink, especially more recently.
Over all, the number of public four-year institutions has risen since 2017-18, to 773 from 760, but quite of the few of the additional institutions (the number peaked at 791 in 2019-20) are community colleges that began offering enough bachelor’s degrees to qualify as four-year institutions.
The number of public four-year universities declined by 2.3 percent from 2019-20 to 2020-21, and the number of community colleges dropped by 2.7 percent in that year.
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