The Geography and Price of Higher Education Post-2008

This map was released in June 2020. To see the latest iteration and analysis check out the JFI Millennial Student Debt project page.

Does the higher education system in the United States act like a typical market economy? As the costs continue to outpace incomes and student debt loads skyrocket, higher education is, de facto, no longer a public function. Institutional supply and student demand dictates the market’s behavior, with the federal government acting as lender to individual students, rather than state governments as public funders of institutions.

The US map below has been published in tandem with an in-depth analysis on the changing geography of the US higher education system. This map, as well as its accompanying study, explore the higher ed system at the zip code level from 2008 - 2017. Map data is delineated by year, college category, and driving distances. Using undergraduate enrollment and pricing data from IPEDS and commuting distances around schools, researchers can show how prices interact with institutional concentration in the thousands of local higher education markets around the US.

Click on an area to freeze the informational panel and explore the statistics and institutions for that zip. Happy mapping!

Private not-for-profit
Private for-profit
Bachelor Degree
Associate Degree
Below Associate Degree
Schools appear at higher zoom levels.

Summary Statistics

Local higher education markets are, in general, highly concentrated, and they have gotten more so over the last decade. For reference, an SCI of 2500 implies there are four local institutions (assuming equal market share for each). 5000 implies two institutions with equal market share (i.e., half), and 10,000 means one institution.

Over the last decade, the US higher education system has become more concentrated. That has several causes: the decline of the for-profit sector after the Great Recession, alongside the expansion of traditional non-profit institutions to adopt a business model similar to that of the for-profits: many more, and higher-priced, debt-financed professional degrees, and accommodating existing programs to increase enrollment among nontraditional student populations. All of that has happened in the light of reduced state support for higher education and the expansion of the federal student loan system.

Level of Analysis
Average Net Price
Count of Zips
People Affected


The academic years represented here are from 2008 - 2009 to 2017 - 2018. For more information on the implications of the map and our preliminary findings, read our report here. Below, find explanations of all variables. Email us with questions about methods and findings here.

Variables derived for each ZCTA:

Clear-cut variables per ZCTA:

Exclusion Criteria:

About Our Researchers

This project was produced by the Higher Education Finance Team at Jain Family Institute. Principal researchers were Laura Beamer and Francis Tseng, with additional research from Eduard Nilaj, Jack Gross, Maya Adereth, Marshall Steinbaum, and Ben Weintraut.

About Our Sources

This analysis uses school-reported Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data from the final releases for the academic years of 2008-09 to 2017-18, and from the provisional release for the academic year 2018-19. For median income and population estimates, researchers used data from the American Community Survey. School isochrone creation for all driving distances was made using OpenStreetMap. Mapping abilities are possible because of MapBox and the US Census Bureau’s 2018 TIGER/Line Shapefiles. For institutions in the 2008-2009 years as well as all branch campuses, latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates were determined using Median Income and Price data was adjusted to 2017 dollars using Federal Reserve Consumer Price Index data.

Download the Data

Download the most up-to-date data by viewing our latest map publication from the JFI Millennial Student Debt project page.