How many Catholic colleges are operating in the United States?

As of June 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS database shows a total of 261 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States, plus five Catholic institutions that do not report data to IPEDS. Of the 260 reporting colleges and universities:

  • 247 are degree-granting; the remaining 15 institutions offer postsecondary programs that do not result in an associate degree or higher.
  • 11 institutions grant only associate degrees. All but four of these are nursing programs associated with Catholic health care systems.
  • 19 institutions grant only graduate degrees. Of these, 16 are seminaries or other theological schools; three are specialized professional schools.
  • 210 Catholic institutions enroll undergraduate students in programs leading to a bachelor's degree; 12 of these grant only a bachelor's degree; 13 institutions award associate and bachelor's degrees.
  • 210 Catholic colleges and universities award graduate degrees; 88 of these award either a research doctorate or professional doctoral degree.

For more information about Catholic seminaries, please visit the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

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How many students are enrolled?

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS system, during the 2014–15 academic year, Catholic higher education educated more than 900,000 students (preliminary 12-month unduplicated headcount), and just over 755,000 during fall 2014. The mean enrollment at a Catholic higher education institution was 3,555 students; the median was 2,349 students. Overall student enrollment has grown dramatically since the 2000–01 academic year, when just under 578,000 students were enrolled (graduate and undergraduate). See the table below for the ten largest Catholic colleges and universities during the 2014–15 academic year.

DePaul University, IL 28,321
St. Leo University, FL 27,289
Saint John's University (NY) 22,436
Georgetown University, DC 21,485
Saint Louis University, MO 19,604
Loyola University Chicago, IL  18,110
Fordham University, NY 17,522
Boston College, MA 15,524
University of Dayton, OH 13,183
University of Notre Dame du Lac, IN 12,721

Source: U.S. Department of Education, IPEDS Data Analysis System.
Variable: 12-month preliminary unduplicated headcount total (academic year 2014–15).

During the 2014–15 academic year, 62% of students enrolled in Catholic universities and colleges were female and 38% were male. The ratio of males to females in Catholic colleges and universities is 1:1.6.

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How many students at Catholic higher education institutions are Catholic?

Data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) annual survey The American Freshman include 40 Catholic colleges and universities (or about 20% of the total U.S. Catholic colleges and universities) that submitted data, representing more than 66,000 students[1] across the country. From 2013 to 2015, there is insignificant change in the percentage of freshmen who self-identify as Catholic at Catholic colleges and universities. Generally, a little over half of incoming freshmen at four-year Catholic colleges and universities self-identify as Catholic. This figure is about the same for the reported religious identity of these freshmen’s parents. Note that for 2015, the parent categories were changed from “Father” and “Mother” to “Parent/Guardian1” and “Parent/Guardian2”.:

Catholic Religious Identification of the Freshman Class and Parents: 2013-2015















Four-year Catholic colleges










Four-year other religious colleges










Four-year non-sectarian colleges










Four-year public colleges










Source: The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2013, 2014, and 2015.

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 What is the average tuition at a Catholic college or university?

According to IPEDS preliminary data, the average tuition and fees at Catholic colleges and universities for the 2015–16 academic year was $28,875, with a minimum of $4,675 and a maximum of $49,324. However, nearly all campuses offer extensive programs of financial aid to reduce the cost of attendance. The average total cost for an undergraduate attending the median Catholic college or university in 2013–14 after grants and scholarships was $22,636.

In measuring tuition costs against the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the average cost of Catholic college and university tuition from 2006 to 2016 has increased at a significantly slower rate than the CPI (50% compared to 63%).

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How much financial aid do students at Catholic institutions typically receive?

For academic year 2013–14, at least 37% of full-time, first-time undergraduates at Catholic colleges and universities received Pell Grants, the federal need-based grants program for low-income students. In addition, 93% of all full-time, first-year students at Catholic campuses received some form of financial aid, with the amount of aid awarded across all Catholic colleges averaging $16,788. As a portion of this, institutional aid is awarded to 84% of students on U.S. Catholic campuses, averaging about $14,191.

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Aside from tuition, how do other fees at Catholic colleges and universities compare?

Additional costs of college attendance are also lower at Catholic institutions. For instance, the cost of room (minus board) on all college campuses in the United States saw a 51% increase from 2006 to 2016, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). At Catholic colleges and universities, the average cost of room (and board) rose by 39% over the same period. The CPI also reports an overall 88% increase in the cost of college textbooks in the same ten-year period. In comparison, Catholic colleges and universities reported an average 22% increase in the prices of books and supplies.

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How does enrollment in a Catholic elementary or high school affect undergraduate enrollment in a Catholic university or college?

D’Antonio et al. find that 42% of all Catholics who attended a Catholic college completed all or most of their education at Catholic schools (p. 160). The authors also state that 79% of current Catholic attendees at a Catholic college or university said they had attended a Catholic elementary school, and 65% had attended a Catholic high school.[2] For more information about Catholic elementary or secondary school, visit the website of the National Catholic Educational Association.

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What was the first Catholic college or university in the United States?

The first Catholic higher education institution in the United States was Georgetown University in Washington, DC, founded by Bishop John Carroll in 1789 and operated by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

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Do Catholic colleges and universities enjoy sizable endowment levels?

According to the federal IPEDS database, about half (48%) of all Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States have endowments of less than the comparatively modest level of $25 million, as of the end of FY2014.

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Are U.S. Catholic higher education institutions ‘international’?

According to the Institute of International Education,[3] Catholic higher education institutions welcome many international students to their campuses. In addition, students at Catholic higher education institutions are able to expand their education internationally. The Center for Academic Mobility at the Institute for International Education reports that in 2010-11, the undergraduate study abroad participation rate for ACCU members was roughly one-third — more than three times the national rate of 9%. In 2014-15, more than 26,600 undergraduates from ACCU institutions had studied abroad.

In addition:

  • Of the top 40 doctoral institutions sending a high percentage of undergraduates abroad, nine are Catholic universities.
  • Of the top 40 master’s institutions engaging a high percentage of undergraduates students in study abroad, another 10 are Catholic universities.

As a percentage of their total undergraduate population, 11 Catholic colleges have more than 50% of undergraduate students participating in international studies. This indicates that at least half of the undergraduate student body population studies abroad before graduating.

Catholic higher education institutions also bring considerable numbers of international students to their campuses. In the 2014-15 academic year, Catholic institutions hosted over 38,000 international students.

Several Catholic college campuses have been recognized for exemplary programs of international study with the Senator Paul Simon Award of the Association of International Educators. They include the University of San Diego (2015, 2011), Fairfield University (2013), College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University (2012), Providence College (2012), University of San Diego (2011), Loyola University Maryland (2010), La Roche College (2010), St. Norbert College (2004), and the University of Notre Dame (2004).

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Have Catholic colleges and universities received any notable recognition?

U.S. Catholic higher education institutions often receive noteworthy recognition for their achievements, and for the accomplishments of their students, faculty, and staff. Among the most recent: 95 ACCU member institutions were listed on the 2015 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, with several Catholic colleges honored in multiple categories. Those schools represent nearly half of ACCU membership!

In addition, 26% of the Catholic colleges listed on the Honor Roll with Distinction are ACCU members. One Presidential Winner in the interfaith category is Catholic (Georgetown University), and one finalist in the education category is Catholic (Gonzaga University).

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Are there any two-year Catholic colleges?

According to the NCES IPEDS data, in fall 2014 there were more than 3,500 students enrolled at nine Catholic two-year colleges, where the median enrollment was about 300 students.

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Are there Catholic colleges associated with medical facilities in the United States?

According to preliminary 2015–16 IPEDS data, three Catholic colleges maintain hospitals, enrolling over 78,000 students. In addition, many campuses offer programs in nursing (undergraduate and graduate) and other health professions (see the ACCU list of Distinctive Academic Programs). There are five medical schools associated with Catholic universities in the United States and three dental schools.

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Have a question not answered here? Send it to accu@accunet.org.

[1] Weighted participants. For more information on the methodology and weighting techniques, see http://heri.ucla.edu/index.php.
[2] D'Antonio, William V., James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hoge, and Mary L. Gautier.  2007.  American Catholics Today: New Realities of their Faith and their Church. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
[3] Institute for International Education, Open Doors 2012: Report on International Educational Exchange. See http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors.


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