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Disaggregate: Postsecondary institution classification


The highest undergraduate degree level (less than two years, two year, or four year) and the sector (public, nonprofit, or for-profit) of a postsecondary institution

Why it matters

Disaggregating student achievement and earnings by postsecondary institution level and sector can reveal disparities in whether and how institutions produce value for students. Data from 2022 published by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) show that four-year college students who attend private nonprofit institutions graduate within six years at the highest rate (78 percent), followed by students in public institutions (69 percent) and private for-profit institutions (46 percent); the graduation rate for students in public two-year colleges is 42 percent. Institution type has also been shown to be related to debt burdens and unemployment rates. As discussed in the Outcomes and Milestones section of this report, private for-profit institutions, which disproportionately serve students from low-income households, are less likely to deliver a minimum economic return for students than their public and private nonprofit counterparts. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) reports data by the level and sector of postsecondary institutions.

What to know about measurement

In IPEDS, postsecondary institutions are classified by the highest undergraduate degree level they offer (less than two years, two year, or four year) and the sector of funding control (public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit). The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education offers more detailed institutional categories that can also be useful for disaggregation, as recommended by the National Academies. For instance, these tiers distinguish “R1” doctoral universities with very high research activity from “R2” doctoral universities with high research activity and other doctoral/professional universities, which are classified as “D/PU.”

Source frameworks

This disaggregate appeared in two source frameworks reviewed for this report: the California Cradle-to-Career Data System and the NSC Postsecondary Data Partnership.


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

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