The short answer: There were 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S. as of the 2019-2020 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The long answer: The total number depends on how university branch campuses are counted, as numerous institutions have satellite locations. The number also is subject to change in a higher education landscape that has experienced numerous recent college closures and mergers.
Education is “like any industry in the sense that you’ve got activity with firms growing, opening, closing, changing, merging continually,” says Guilbert C. Hentschke, dean emeritus at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education.
Though the U.S. Department of Education tallies nearly 4,000 colleges and universities, U.S. News included just 1,452 schools in the 2021 rankings. To be eligible for inclusion in the Best Colleges rankings, a school must be regionally accredited and offer four-year undergraduate degree programs. Colleges that offer only associate degrees are not ranked, nor are schools with fewer than 200 students.
The Number of Public vs. Private Colleges
Of the 3,982 institutions listed by NCES, there were 1,625 public four-year and two-year colleges; 1,660 private nonprofit four-year and two-year schools; and 697 for-profit schools in fall 2019. The data divides the institutions into subcategories such as four-year colleges and universities and two-year schools, often known as community…