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Over 4000 postsecondary institutions exist in the United States. They come in many shapes and sizes, enroll different types of students, and grapple with unique challenges. Organizing institutions into sectors can mask these challenges and perpetuate myths about how well certain colleges and universities produce positive student outcomes.

The main sector distinctions are between associate and baccalaureate (i.e., two- vs. four-year) and between public and nonpublic institutions.

Generally, community and technical colleges serve a wider student clientele. Adults and students of color disproportionally attend two-year colleges, making coordination between the two- and four-year sectors essential to student success.

For-profit colleges compete with the community college sector for nontraditional students. In some states, for-profit institutions enroll up to a quarter of total students.

As states stretch postsecondary dollars further, policymakers must consider institutional performance and the factors that inform these outcomes. They should also collect data to gauge labor market needs. With limited resources, policymakers must deploy them in ways that produce the highest possible return on investment.

In the current fiscal environment, states and postsecondary systems will have to coordinate policies and strategies in such a way that different institutional sectors work together to achieve ambitious completion and workforce goals.


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