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Private School Enrollment
(Last Updated: January 2014)

Private school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12 increased from 5.9 million in 1995–96 to 6.3 million in 2001–02, then decreased to 5.3 million in 2011–12. The percentage of all students in private schools decreased from 12 percent in 1995–96 to 10 percent in 2011–12.

In school year 2011–12, some 5.3 million students were enrolled in private schools, excluding prekindergarten students who were enrolled in private schools that did not offer at least one grade of kindergarten or higher.


Figure 1. Private school enrollment in prekindergarten (preK) through grade 12, by grade level: School years 1995–96 through 2011–12

Figure 1. Private school enrollment in prekindergarten (preK) through grade 12, by grade level: School years 1995–96 through 2011–12


SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey (PSS), 1995–96 through 2011–12. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 205.20.


The percentage of all students in private schools decreased from 12 percent in 1995–96 to 10 percent in 2011–12. Private school enrollment in prekindergarten (preK) through grade 12 increased from 5.9 million in 1995–96 to 6.3 million in 2001–02, then decreased to 5.3 million in 2011–12. Similar to overall private school enrollment, private school enrollment in preK through grade 8 increased from 4.8 million in 1995–96 to 5.0 million in 2001–02, then decreased to 4.0 million in 2011–12. However, private school enrollment in grades 9 through 12 increased from 1.2 million in 1995–96 to 1.3 million in 2011–12.


Figure 2. Number of private school students in prekindergarten through grade 12, by school type: Selected years, 1995–96 through 2011–12

Figure 2. Number of private school students in prekindergarten through grade 12, by school type: Various school years, 1995–96 through 2011–12


NOTE: Prekindergarten students who are enrolled in private schools that do not offer kindergarten or higher grades are not included in this analysis. Catholic schools include parochial, diocesan, and private Catholic schools. Conservative Christian schools have membership in at least one of four associations: Accelerated Christian Education, American Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Schools International, or Oral Roberts University Education Fellowship. Affiliated religious schools have a specific religious orientation or purpose but are not Catholic. Unaffiliated schools have a more general religious orientation or purpose but are not classified as conservative Christian or affiliated with a specific religion. Nonsectarian schools do not have a religious orientation or purpose.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey (PSS), various years, 1995–96 through 2011–12. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 205.20.


The number of total private school students attending Catholic schools decreased from 2.7 million in 1995–96 to 2.1 million in 2011–12 and the share of private school students in Catholic schools declined from 45 percent in 1995–96 to 40 percent in 2011–12. The decrease in the share of private school students attending Catholic schools was due to a decline in the number of students enrolled in Catholic parochial schools (from 1.5 million in 1995–96 to 804,000 in 2011–12). The numbers of students enrolled in conservative Christian and affiliated schools were also lower in 2011–12 (731,000 and 565,000, respectively) than in 1995–96 (787,000 and 697,000, respectively). In contrast, the number of students enrolled in unaffiliated schools was higher in 2011–12 (696,000 students) than in 1995–96 (611,000 students).


Figure 3. Percentage distribution of private elementary and secondary school enrollment, by school level and
type: 2011–12

Figure 3. . Percentage distribution of private elementary and secondary school enrollment, by school level and type: 2011–12


NOTE: Prekindergarten students who are enrolled in private schools that do not offer kindergarten or higher grades are not included in this analysis. Elementary schools have grade 6 or lower and no grade higher than 8. Secondary schools have no grade lower than 7 and include both junior high schools and senior high schools. Combined schools include those that have grades lower than 7 and higher than 8, as well as those that do not classify students by grade level. Catholic schools include parochial, diocesan, and private Catholic schools. Conservative Christian schools have membership in at least one of four associations: Accelerated Christian Education, American Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Schools International, or Oral Roberts University Education Fellowship. Affiliated religious schools have a specific religious orientation or purpose but are not Catholic. Unaffiliated schools have a more general religious orientation or purpose but are not classified as conservative Christian or affiliated with a specific religion. Nonsectarian schools do not have a religious orientation or purpose. Ungraded students are prorated into preK–8 and 9–12 enrollment totals. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey (PSS), 2011–12. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 205.30.


In 2011–12, half of all private elementary school students were enrolled in Catholic schools. Additionally, 7 percent were enrolled in conservative Christian schools, 10 percent were enrolled in affiliated religious schools, 13 percent were enrolled in unaffiliated religious schools, and 21 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian, or nonreligious, schools. Similarly, more private secondary school students were enrolled in Catholic schools (74 percent) than in any other school type. In contrast to the large percentage of private school students enrolled in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, Catholic students made up the minority of private school students enrolled in combined schools, at only 8 percent.


Figure 4. Percentage distribution of private elementary and secondary school enrollment, by school locale and type: 2011–12

Figure 4. Percentage distribution of private elementary and secondary school enrollment, by school locale and type: 2011–12


NOTE: Prekindergarten students who are enrolled in private schools that do not offer kindergarten or higher grades are not included in this analysis. Catholic schools include parochial, diocesan, and private Catholic schools. Conservative Christian schools have membership in at least one of four associations: Accelerated Christian Education, American Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Schools International, or Oral Roberts University Education Fellowship. Affiliated religious schools have a specific religious orientation or purpose but are not Catholic. Unaffiliated schools have a more general religious orientation or purpose but are not classified as conservative Christian or affiliated with a specific religion. Nonsectarian schools do not have a religious orientation or purpose. Ungraded students are prorated into preK–8 and 9–12 enrollment totals. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey (PSS), 2011–12. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 205.30.


In 2011–12, higher percentages of private elementary and secondary school students were enrolled in Catholic schools than in other religious or nonsectarian schools in cities, suburbs, and towns. In towns, for example, 49 percent of private school students attended Catholic schools, while 39 percent attended other religious schools and 11 percent attended nonsectarian schools. In rural areas, however, a lower percentage of private school students (17 percent) attended Catholic schools than attended nonsectarian (26 percent) or other religious schools (57 percent).


Figure 5. Percentage distribution of private elementary and secondary school enrollment, by race/ethnicity and school type: 2011–12

Figure 5. Percentage distribution of private elementary and secondary school enrollment, by race/ethnicity and school type: 2011–12


NOTE: Prekindergarten students who are enrolled in private schools that do not offer kindergarten or higher grades are not included in this analysis. Catholic schools include parochial, diocesan, and private Catholic schools. Conservative Christian schools have membership in at least one of four associations: Accelerated Christian Education, American Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Schools International, or Oral Roberts University Education Fellowship. Affiliated religious schools have a specific religious orientation or purpose but are not Catholic. Unaffiliated schools have a more general religious orientation or purpose but are not classified as conservative Christian or affiliated with a specific religion. Nonsectarian schools do not have a religious orientation or purpose. Ungraded students are prorated into preK–8 and 9–12 enrollment totals. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey (PSS), 2011–12. See Digest of Education Statistics 2013, table 205.30.


There were differences in private elementary and secondary school attendance by school type within racial/ethnic groups. For all racial/ethnic groups other than Black, higher percentages of private school students attended Catholic schools than other religious schools or nonsectarian schools in 2011–12. For example, 60 percent of Hispanic private school students attended Catholic schools, while 24 percent attended other religious schools and 15 percent attended nonsectarian schools. In contrast, there was a higher percentage of Black private school students attending other religious schools (42 percent) than attending Catholic schools (35 percent). The percentage of Black private school students attending Catholic schools was also higher than the percentage attending nonsectarian schools (23 percent).


Data Source: Private School Survey (PSS)


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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education