Higher education in the United States includes a variety of institutions of higher education. Strong research and funding have helped make United States colleges and universities among the world's most prestigious, making them particularly attractive to international students, professors and researchers in the pursuit of academic excellence. According to the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, more than 30 of the highest-ranked 45 institutions are in the United States (as measured by awards and research output). Public universities, private universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges all have a significant role in higher education in the United States.
The United States has a total of 4,495 Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions: 2,774 4-year institutions and 1,721 2-year institutions, an average of more than 115 per state. As of 2010, the US had 20.3 million students in higher education, roughly 5.7% of the total population. About 14.6 million of these students were enrolled full-time.
The 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau found that 19.5 percent of the population had attended college but had no degree, 7.4 percent held an associate's degree, 17.1 percent held a bachelor's degree, and 9.9 percent held a graduate or professional degree. Only a small gender gap was present: 27 percent of the overall population held a bachelor's degree or higher, with a slightly larger percentage of men (27.9 percent) than women (26.2 percent). However, despite increasing economic incentives for people to obtain college degrees, the percentage of people graduating from high school and college has been declining as of 2008. 70.1% of 2009 high school graduates enrolled in college. Historically, 76% of those who graduate in the lower 40% of their high school class will not obtain a college degree.
The survey found that the area with the highest percentage of people 25 years and over with a bachelor's degree was the District of Columbia (45.9 percent), followed by the states of Massachusetts (37 percent), Maryland (35.1 percent), Colorado (34.3 percent), and Connecticut (33.7 percent). The state with the lowest percentage of people 25 years and over with a bachelor's degree was West Virginia (16.5 percent), next lowest were Arkansas (18.2), Mississippi (18.8 percent), Kentucky (20 percent), and Louisiana (20.3 percent).
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