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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 a 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. After a period of slightly declining or stable enrollment from 2007 to 2012, enrollment began increasing again. Enrollments in fall 2013 (55.4 million) through fall 2016 (56.4 million) were higher than the fall 2006 record level of 55.3 million. A pattern of annual enrollment increases is projected to continue at least through fall 2028 (the last year for which NCES has projected school enrollment). Total elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to increase 2 percent between fall 2018 and fall 2028, when enrollment is expected to reach 57.4 million.

Between 1985 and 2017, the total public and private elementary and secondary school enrollment rate for 5- and 6-year-olds decreased from 96 to 94 percent, and the enrollment rate for 7- to 13-year-olds decreased from 99 to 98 percent. In 2017, the enrollment rate for 14- to 17-year-olds (96 percent) was not measurably different from the rate in 1985. Since these enrollment rates changed by less than 4 percentage points between 1985 and 2017, increases in elementary and secondary school enrollment primarily reflect the larger increases in the number of children in these age groups. Between 1985 and 2017, the number of 5- and 6-year-olds increased by 16 percent, the number of 7- to 13-year-olds increased by 26 percent, and the number of 14- to 17-year-olds increased by 13 percent. Increases in the enrollment rate of prekindergarten-age children (ages 3 and 4), from 39 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 2017, and in the number of 3- and 4-year-olds, from 7.1 million to 8.0 million, also contributed to overall increases in prekindergarten through grade 12 enrollment.

The percentage of students in private elementary and secondary schools declined from 11.0 percent in fall 2005 to 10.2 percent in fall 2015. In fall 2018, an estimated 5.8 million students were enrolled in private schools at the elementary and secondary levels.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2018 (NCES 2020-009), Chapter 1.

Fall enrollment, total expenditures, and expenditures as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), by level of education: Selected years, 1965–66 through 2017–18

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

NOTE: Elementary and secondary enrollment data for school year 2017 (2017–18) are projected. Elementary and secondary expenditure data for 2016 and 2017 (school years 2016–17 and 2017–18) are estimated. Postsecondary expenditure data for 2017 (school year 2017–18) are estimated.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2018 (NCES 2020-009), Figure 2.

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