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women and minorities
Introduction Chapter 1: Precollege Education Chapter 3: Undergraduate Degrees Chapter 4: Graduate Enrollment Chapter 5: Graduate Degrees Chapter 6: Employment Technical Notes Appendix Tables
Chapter Contents:
Enrollment rates
Enrollment status
Two-year institutions
Four-year institutions
Field choice
Engineering enrollment
Financial aid
Appendix Tables
List of Figures
Presentation Slides

Undergraduate Enrollment

Enrollment rates

Students with disabilities

College enrollment rates differ between men and women and among the various racial/ethnic groups. Women are more likely than men, and whites and Asians are more likely than members of other racial/ethnic groups, to enroll in college. The reasons for these different rates of enrollment are varied, with the literature citing such factors as differences in academic preparation and in family characteristics, including family structure, parental education, and family income (U.S. ED/NCES 1998).

Women  top of page

Women are more likely than men to attend college. Among the 25- to 29-year-old population in 2000 that had completed high school, women were more likely than men to have attended college—69 percent of women and 64 percent of men had completed some college. (See appendix table 2-1.) Women are also more likely than men to enroll in college immediately following high school. Among 1999 high school completers aged 16 to 24, 64 percent of women compared to 61 percent of men were enrolled in college the October after high school graduation (U.S. ED/NCES 2000a).

In 1997, women accounted for more than half (56 percent) of total undergraduate enrollment at all institutions.[1] (See appendix table 2-2.) Women have constituted more than half of all undergraduates since 1978. The number of female undergraduates remained relatively constant throughout the 1990s, fluctuating between 6.9 and 7.0 million from 1991 through 1997. The number of male undergraduates also remained relatively constant, fluctuating between 5.5 and 5.6 million over the same period. Total undergraduate enrollment is projected to rise through 2009, especially among women, full-time students, students under 22 years old, and students at 4-year institutions (U.S. ED/NCES 2000a).

Minorities  top of page

Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to attend college. Among high school graduates aged 25 to 29 in 2000, 68 percent of whites, 61 percent of blacks, and 52 percent of Hispanics had completed some college. (See appendix table 2-1 and figure 2-1 figure.) Within each of the racial/ethnic groups for which data are available (white, black, and Hispanic), women are more likely than men to attend college.

Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to enroll in college immediately following high school. In 1997,[2] the percentages of black and Hispanic high school graduates who had enrolled in college the October after completing high school were 59 and 55 percent, respectively, compared with 68 percent of white high school graduates (U.S. ED/NCES 2000a). Immediate enrollment rates for white and black high school graduates increased over the decade, but there was no growth in immediate enrollment rates for Hispanic high school graduates during this period.

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents,[3] nonwhite enrollment in undergraduate programs increased over the last two decades, both in absolute numbers and as percentages of total undergraduate enrollment. The number of black students rose from approximately 1.1 million in 1990 (10 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) to approximately 1.4 million in 1997 (11 percent of total undergraduate enrollment). (See appendix table 2-2.) Similarly, the number of Hispanic undergraduates grew from about 0.9 million (7 percent) in 1990 to about 1.3 million (10 percent) in 1997, the number of Asian undergraduates grew from approximately 507,000 (4 percent) to approximately 745,000 (6 percent), and the number of American Indian students increased from around 95,000 (0.8 percent) to around 127,000 (1 percent). In contrast, the number of white undergraduates dropped from approximately 9.3 million (78 percent) in 1990 to 8.7 million (71 percent) in 1997.

Among Asian, black, Hispanic, and American Indian undergraduates, the numbers of both male and female students increased between 1990 and 1997. The numbers of white male and white female undergraduates dropped after peaking in 1991. Declining enrollments for whites may be attributed to declines in the college-age population as a whole. The white college-age population (18- to 24-year-olds) declined steadily from 1990 through 1997. (See figure 2-2 figure.) Between 1990 and 2000, the number of nonwhite 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States increased, mostly within Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic subgroups. The black college-age population remained fairly constant in size over the period. The numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds in each racial/ethnic group are expected to increase through 2010.

The percentages of undergraduates in each racial/ethnic group that are women increased between 1990 and 1997; since 1992, more than half of the undergraduate students in each racial/ethnic group have been women. (See appendix table 2-2.)

Students with disabilities  top of page

Among 1988 eighth graders who completed high school, students with disabilities were less likely than those without disabilities—63 versus 72 percent—to have enrolled in postsecondary education by 1994.[4] (See appendix table 2-3.) Those who did were less likely than students without disabilities to enroll in 4-year institutions. Findings from the National Education Longitudinal Study indicate that students with disabilities may be less academically prepared for college than those without: they were more likely to have taken remedial courses, were less likely to have taken advanced placement courses, and had lower grade point averages and SAT scores (U.S. ED/NCES 1999b). Academic preparation varied by type of disability. Students with learning disabilities were least academically prepared; those with orthopedic impairments were most academically prepared.

Among 1998 college freshmen, students with disabilities were more likely than those without to have earned Cs and Ds in high school; they were less likely to have met the recommended years of high school study in mathematics, the biological sciences, and the physical sciences; and they spent more time between high school graduation and entry into college than did those without disabilities (Henderson 1999; see appendix A for question wording).

Students with disabilities comprised roughly 6 percent of those enrolled in undergraduate institutions in 1996. (See figure 2-3 figure.) Students with learning disabilities comprised the largest group of students with disabilities. Two groups of students with disabilities who completed high school nearly matched or exceeded the proportion of students without disabilities who had enrolled in postsecondary education by 1994: those with orthopedic and those with visual impairments. (See appendix table 2-3; see appendix A for question wording.)

The percentage of college freshmen reporting disabilities increased from less than 3 percent in 1978 to 9 percent in 2000. Much of the growth in the number and percentage of students with disabilities is due to increased numbers of students with learning disabilities; this group accounted for 15 percent of freshmen with disabilities in 1988 and 41 percent in 1998. As a result, the percentage of students with disabilities who reported any other type of disability decreased from 1988 to 1998—for example, students with visual impairments were 31 percent of freshmen with disabilities in 1988 but 13 percent in 1998, while students with orthopedic impairments dropped from 14 to 9 percent (Henderson 1999).


[1]  The survey universe for the data presented here is all accredited institutions of higher education. These are primarily 2- and 4-year institutions, but include a small number of less-than-2-year institutions that enroll less than 1 percent of undergraduate students.

[2]  Because of small sample sizes for blacks and Hispanics, 3-year averages were calculated here. For example, the 3-year average for blacks in 1997 is the average percentage of black high school completers aged 16 to 24 who were enrolled in college the October after completing high school in 1996, 1997, and 1998.

[3]  Data on race/ethnicity of undergraduate students are collected only for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Comparable data are not collected for students on temporary visas.

[4]  The National Education Longitudinal Study, first conducted in the spring of 1988, surveyed almost 25,000 eighth grade students in public and private schools, their school administrators, their teachers, and their parents. Follow-up surveys were conducted in 1990, 1992, and 1994. Students were considered to have a disability if parents responded in 1988 that their child had one or more disabilities and had received services for same. See appendix A for a description of data sources.

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