In fall 2009, as in fall 2008, online universities and community colleges showed the most enrollment growth among U.S. higher-education institutions. Those trends are likely a reflection of the poor economy; both online institutions and two-year community colleges offer students ways to pursue higher education that typically are less expensive than a public or private four-year university.

Of the 20 higher-education institutions that reported the largest enrollments in fall 2009, five are predominantly online operations: University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, Strayer University, Ashford University and Liberty University. Another five are predominantly two-year community colleges: Miami-Dade College, Houston Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, Lone Star College System, and the Tarrant County College District.

Unlike K-12 public schools, the fluctuations in student numbers at a higher-education institution don't necessarily reflect the demographics of where the school is situated. Colleges and universities may decide to limit their enrollments, and higher-education students have more leeway than K-12 students to choose where they attend school.

The largest enrollment in fall 2009 for a four-year university was Arizona State University, which had more than 68,000 students on four campuses in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

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