Enrollment trends

Question:
What are the enrollment trends in public and private elementary and secondary schools?

Response:
Total enrollment in public and private elementary and secondary schools (prekindergarten through grade 12) grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, reaching a peak year in 1971. This enrollment rise reflected what is known as the “baby boom,” a dramatic increase in births following World War II. Between 1971 and 1984, total elementary and secondary school enrollment decreased every year, reflecting the decline in the size of the school-age population over that period. After these years of decline, enrollment in elementary and secondary schools started increasing in fall 1985, began hitting new record levels in the mid-1990s, and continued to reach new record levels every year through 2006. Enrollment in fall 2011 (54.8 million) was about the same as in fall 2010 (54.9 million) but slightly lower than in fall 2006 (55.3 million). However, a pattern of annual enrollment increases is projected to begin with a slight increase in fall 2015 (no substantial change from fall 2014) and continue at least through fall 2023 (the last year for which NCES has projected school enrollment), when enrollment is expected to reach 57.0 million.

Between 1985 and 2012, the total public and private school enrollment rate decreased by 3 percentage points for 5- and 6-year-olds. The enrollment rate for 7- to 13-year-olds decreased from 99 percent in 1985 to 98 percent in 2012; however, the enrollment rate for 14- to 17-year-olds increased from 95 to 97 percent during this period. Since these enrollment rates changed by 3 or fewer percentage points between 1985 and 2012, increases in public and private elementary and secondary school enrollment primarily reflect increases in the number of children in these age groups. Between 1985 and 2012, the number of 5- and 6-year-olds increased by 19 percent, the number of 7- to 13-year-olds increased by 25 percent, and the number of 14- to 17-year-olds increased by 12 percent. Increases in the enrollment rate of prekindergarten-age children (ages 3 and 4) from 39 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 2012 and in the number of 3- and 4-year-olds from 7.1 million to 8.1 million also contributed to overall prekindergarten through grade 12 enrollment increases.

Public school enrollment at the elementary level (prekindergarten through grade 8) rose from 29.9 million in fall 1990 to 34.2 million in fall 2003. After a decrease of less than 1 percent between fall 2003 and fall 2004, elementary enrollment generally increased to a projected total of 35.1 million for fall 2013. Public elementary enrollment is projected to increase about 5 percent overall between 2013 and 2023. Public school enrollment at the secondary level (grades 9 through 12) rose from 11.3 million in 1990 to 15.1 million in 2007, but then declined 3 percent to a projected enrollment of 14.6 million in 2013. Public secondary enrollment is projected to increase about 3 percent between 2013 and 2023. Total public elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to increase every year from 2014 to 2023. The percentage of students in private elementary and secondary schools declined from 11.7 percent in fall 2001 to 9.6 percent in fall 2011. In fall 2013, an estimated 5.1 million students were enrolled in private schools at the elementary and secondary levels.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 (NCES 2015-011), Chapter 1.


Enrollment, total expenditures in constant dollars, and expenditures as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), by level of education: Selected years, 1965-66 through 2012-13

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Elementary and secondary enrollment data for school year 2012 (2012–13) are projected. Elementary and secondary expenditure data for school years 2011 and 2012 (2011–12 and 2012–13) are estimated. Postsecondary expenditure data for school year 2012 (2012–13) are estimated.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 (NCES 2015-011), Figure 2.

Related Tables and Figures:  (Listed by Release Date)

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)