When people think of a college student, they often imagine an unmarried High school graduate in their late teens or early 20’s attending full time on campus. The reality is different, with diversity increasing in many key areas in recent years.

Here is a breakdown of student demographics at American universities.


 Number of college students by age category
Number of college students by age category

In 2015, there were 11.8 million college and university students under age 25 and 8.1 million students 25 years old and over.

While 18-21-year-olds make up a significant percentage of students, they still account for less than half (42.15%) of all students.

Interestingly, the average age of online degree program students was 32 years old in 2016.


Men have traditionally attended university at far higher rates than women. Over recent years, there has been a dramatic shift in the opposite direction.

Women now comprise 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In total enrolment figures that translates to 2.2 million fewer men than women enrolled in college this year.

There is no indication that this trend won’t continue. According to Education Department estimates, by 2026, 57 percent of college students will be women.


Minority attendance at University is growing. For example, since 1994, enrolment of black students has doubled at institutions that primarily grant associate degrees, including community colleges.

Minority students tend to enrol in less selective institutions. For example, black students are more likely to attend a two-year college and attend on a part-time basis.

Black people and Latinx people are still less likely to finish high school, less likely to attend college and less likely to graduate if they do.


According to the latest data (2011–12), the percentage of undergraduates who reported having a disability was 11 percent for both males and females.

Veteran status, age, dependency status, and race/ethnicity all impact on disability rates amongst corresponding student cohorts.

For example, among dependent undergraduates, 9 percent reported having a disability, which was lower than the percentages for independent undergraduates who were married (13 percent) or unmarried (14 percent).


According to a 2014 study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 4.8 million college students were parents of dependent children in 2011. That equates to 26 percent of all college undergraduates.

The number of single mothers in college more than doubled between 1999 and 2012. As of 2012, 11 percent of all undergraduates were raising children without a partner.

Among low-income and first-generation college students, more than a third are parents, and minorities are especially likely to be balancing parenting and college, with 37% of African American, 33% of Native American, and 25 percent of Latino students raising children.

Marital Status

As more mature aged students either start college, the number of married college students increases.

Approximately seven percent of all college undergraduates are married, though the figure is higher when taking into account post-graduate students.

A study from Facebook found that about 28% of married college-graduates attended the same college.

Full Time versus Part Time

Part-time study is becoming increasingly popular in response to student demand for flexibility

Approximately 12.6 million students currently attend full-time while 7.8 million attend part-time (source).

Interestingly, 34 percent of students who enroll full-time for at least one term earn an associate degree or certificate while only 23 percent of those who always enroll part-time do so.

Students who attend their first semester full time are also much more likely to persist to the second year by a margin of 77 percent to 64 percent.

Two Year versus Four Year Colleges

In fall 2017, 7.0 million students attended 2-year institutions and 13.4 million attended 4-year institutions.

About 17.5 million students are expected to enroll in undergraduate programs, and 3.0 million will enroll in post-baccalaureate programs (source).

According to this article from Inside Higher Ed, nearly half of all students graduating with a four-year degree in the 2013-14 school year had previously attended a two-year institution. Of those students, 65 percent enrolled for at least three semesters at a community college.

Distance Education

By 2016, distance education enrolments had increased for the fourteenth straight year.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 71.5% of students did not take a distance education course as part of their degree in 2014.

14.5% of students took at least one, but not all, distance courses and 14% took only online courses (source).

Public institutions command the greatest portion of distance education students, with 67.8 percent of all distance students.