A national college or university draws its enrollment from the nation as a whole, as opposed to enrolling students primarily from the same or adjacent states. This is in contrast with a regional college or university, where more than half of the students come from the same or adjacent states.

This also differs from the definition used by college rankings, which focus more on reputation than on enrollment. However, prestigious colleges and universities are more likely to attract students from all over the U.S. as opposed to just students who live nearby.

Some colleges and universities claim to be national colleges and universities, but they enroll just a few students from each state. It is important for a national college or university to enroll a majority of students beyond the same and adjacent states.

 

Most College Students Go Local

Seven out of every eight U.S. undergraduate students go to a college or university located in the student’s state of legal residence, according to data from the 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). This data excludes students who are enrolled in online education.

As shown in this table, students who are enrolled in Bachelor’s degree programs are more likely to have come from a different state. More than three quarters of students from a different state are enrolled in Bachelor’s degree programs.

Undergraduate Degree Program

(Excluding Online Education)

Same State

Different State

Distribution of Students

from a Different State

Certificate

91%

9%

7%

Associate’s degree

95%

5%

18%

Bachelor’s degree

80%

20%

76%

Total

87%

13%

100%

This is especially true for community colleges, as shown in the next three tables, where most of the students come from the same state. More than four-fifths of students from a different state are enrolled in 4-year colleges.

Institution Level

(Excluding Online Education)

Same State

Different State

Distribution of Students

from a Different State

4-year

81%

19%

82%

2-year

95%

5%

17%

Less than 2-year

94%

6%

1%

This table shows that out-of-state students are about evenly split between public and private non-profit colleges.

Institution Control

(Excluding Online Education)

Same State

Different State

Distribution of Students

from a Different State

Public

92%

8%

47%

Private Non-Profit

61%

39%

45%

Private For-Profit

87%

13%

8%

When disaggregating the data by type of college, the further detail shows that most of the out-of-state enrollment is concentrated at public 4-year and private non-profit 4-year colleges, consistent with the distribution by degree program.

College Type (Excluding Online Education)

Same State

Different State

Distribution of Students

from a Different State

Public 4-year

89%

11%

32%

Public 2-year

96%

4%

14%

Public less-than-2-year

96%

4%

0%

Private Non-Profit 4-year

60%

40%

45%

Private Non-Profit 2-year

87%

13%

0%

Private Non-Profit less-than-2-year

96%

4%

0%

Private For-Profit 4-year

80%

20%

5%

Private For-Profit 2-year

89%

11%

2%

Private For-Profit less-than-2-year

93%

7%

1%

The next table shows that the distribution of out-of-state students at 4-year colleges correlates strongly with the selectivity of the institution. Very selective colleges are more likely to have out-of-state students.

Selectivity (Excluding Online Education)

Same State

Different State

Distribution of Students

from a Different State

Very selective

69%

31%

25%

Moderately selective

82%

18%

43%

Minimally selective

84%

16%

5%

Open admission

88%

12%

9%

Not a 4-year institution

95%

5%

18%

 

List of National Colleges and Universities

This list of national colleges and universities is based on data from the 2017 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS).

Only colleges and universities where less than half of first-time freshmen come from the same or adjacent states were identified as national colleges and universities.

Colleges and universities with less than 200 first-time freshmen were excluded.

It also excludes colleges and universities where the enrollment is predominantly online, since these students do not leave their home state to enroll in the college.

A total of only 81 colleges and universities remained.

Note that this analysis depends on data from the EF2017C table in IPEDS, Residence and migration of first-time freshmen. Some colleges and universities that one would expect to be classified as national colleges and universities, such as the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, do not provide data in this table.

Other prestigious colleges and universities that were excluded because of a lack of data include Barnard, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Stanford, University of Southern California, Vassar and Wellesley. But, one cannot assume that they would be classified as national colleges and universities. For example, Cornell was excluded from the list of national colleges and universities because 53% of first-time freshmen come from the same or adjacent states, just barely above the cutoff. Likewise, several prestigious California colleges and universities, including UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSD, have most of their first-time freshmen coming from the same or adjacent states (75%, 71% and 78%, respectively).

These are the 81 institutions that are identified as national colleges and universities because at least half of first-time freshmen come from outside of the state in which the college is located and adjacent states. The colleges and universities are listed in alphabetical order.

  • American University (DC)
  • Amherst College (MA)
  • Andrews University (MI)
  • Bates College (ME)
  • Belmont University (TN)
  • Bowdoin College (ME)
  • Brandeis University (MA)
  • Brown University (RI)
  • Bryn Mawr College (PA)
  • California Institute of Technology (CA)
  • Carleton College (MN)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
  • Case Western Reserve University (OH)
  • Claremont McKenna College (CA)
  • Colby College (ME)
  • College of Wooster (OH)
  • Culinary Institute of America (NY)
  • Dartmouth College (NH)
  • Denison University (OH)
  • Dickinson College (PA)
  • Earlham College (IN)
  • Eckerd College (FL)
  • Elon University (NC)
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach (FL)
  • Emerson College (MA)
  • Emory University (GA)
  • Florida Institute of Technology (FL)
  • Gallaudet University (DC)
  • George Washington University (DC)
  • Georgetown University (DC)
  • Grinnell College (IA)
  • Harvard University (MA)
  • Harvey Mudd College (CA)
  • Haverford College (PA)
  • Hawaii Pacific University (HI)
  • Howard University (DC)
  • Maryland Institute College of Art (MD)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
  • Middlebury College (VT)
  • Morehouse College (GA)
  • Mount Holyoke College (MA)
  • New Mexico Military Institute (NM)
  • Oakwood University (AL)
  • Occidental College (CA)
  • Pomona College (CA)
  • Pratt Institute (NY)
  • Princeton University (NJ)
  • Reed College (OR)
  • Rhode Island School of Design (RI)
  • Rice University (TX)
  • Savannah College of Art and Design (GA)
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago (IL)
  • Scripps College (CA)
  • Seattle University (WA)
  • Smith College (MA)
  • Southern Adventist University (TN)
  • Southern Methodist University (TX)
  • Sterling College (KS)
  • Swarthmore College (PA)
  • Texas Christian University (TX)
  • The New School (NY)
  • Tufts University (MA)
  • United States Air Force Academy (CO)
  • United States Merchant Marine Academy (NY)
  • University of Chicago (IL)
  • University of Denver (CO)
  • University of Miami (FL)
  • University of New England (ME)
  • University of Notre Dame (IN)
  • University of Pennsylvania (PA)
  • University of Puget Sound (WA)
  • University of Tampa (FL)
  • Vanderbilt University (TN)
  • Wake Forest University (NC)
  • Washington and Lee University (VA)
  • Washington University in St Louis (MO)
  • Wesleyan University (CT)
  • Wheaton College (IL)
  • Whitman College (WA)
  • Williams College (MA)
  • Yale University (CT)

The five national colleges and universities that have only 1% of first-time freshmen from the same state are all located in Washington, DC. They are American University, Gallaudet University, George Washington University, Georgetown University and Howard University.

National colleges and universities are mostly located on the east and west coasts, the middle Atlantic region and the south, with few in the north and mountain regions.