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Back-to-school statistics

Question:
It's back-to-school time—what do we know about our nation’s students and schools?

Response:

Across the country, students are preparing to head back to school for the 2023–24 academic year. Each year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compiles facts and figures that provide a snapshot of the most recent data about schools and colleges in the United States. This year’s fact covers a range of school years from 2019–20 to 2021–22. Learn more below.

To locate the latest findings from NCES, search for recent Publications & Products and peruse the NCES Blog.

PK–12 EDUCATION

POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION


PK–12 EDUCATION

Enrollment

How many students attended school in recent years?

In fall 2021, about 49.4 million students were enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools (source). Of these public school students in fall 2021,

Compared to fall 2019 (prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic), public school enrollment in 2021 was 11 percent lower in prekindergarten, 4 percent lower in kindergarten to grade 8, and 1 percent higher in grades 9 to 12 (source).

In fall 2019, about 5.5 million students were enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools (source). For private school students, this estimate excludes prekindergarten enrollment in schools that do not offer kindergarten or a higher grade. Of these private school students in fall 2019,

What were the demographics of public school students in fall 2021?

The 49.4 million public school students enrolled in prekindergarten through grade 12 in fall 2021 included (source)

To learn more about student demographics, explore other NCES Fast Facts on topics including:

Learning Recovery (source)3

What percentage of public school students were behind grade level in 2021–22?

In June 2022, on average, public schools reported that 50 percent of students were behind grade level4 in at least one academic subject at the beginning of the 2021–22 school year, compared to a reported 36 percent on average at the end of the school year.5

What strategies have public schools implemented during the 2021–22 school year to support studentsí pandemic-related learning recovery?

To support their studentsí pandemic-related learning recovery, public schools implemented a variety of strategies during the 2021–22 school year. Overall, some of the most commonly reported strategies used to support pandemic-related learning recovery, out of a total of 15 that public school administrators were asked to report on, were

Mental Health (source)6

What percentage of public schools reported that they were able to effectively provide mental health services to students?

In spring 2022, public schools reported that studentsí mental health was among the top three most common concerns for both students and parents.

Visit our Fast Fact on mental health services in public schools to learn more about the mental health services schools offered in earlier years.

Teachers

How many teachers were there in the United States in recent years?

In school year 2021–22, there were 3.2 million full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers in public schools (source). In 2019–20, there were 0.5 million FTE teachers in private schools (source).

Visit our Fast Fact on teacher characteristics and trends to learn more about the teaching profession in the United States.

Expenditures (source)

How much was spent on public elementary and secondary education in 2020–21 (FY 2021)?

(Note: Current expenditures for Arizona, New York, and Oregon exclude prekindergarten. Current expenditures for California exclude prekindergarten but include special education preschool programs. Dollar amounts are not adjusted for inflation.)


POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION

Enrollment

How many students attended colleges and universities in fall 2021?

About 19.0 million students attended colleges and universities (including non-degree-granting institutions) in fall 2021 (source). Of these students,

How did fall 2021 postsecondary enrollment compare with enrollment in previous years?

Postsecondary enrollment in fall 2021 (19.0 million students) was 12 percent lower than the peak enrollment in fall 2010 (21.6 million students) (source).

Distance Learning (source)

How many postsecondary students participated in distance learning?

In fall 2021, some 59 percent of postsecondary students (11.2 million) were enrolled in any distance education course. Of these 11.2 million students, 50 percent (5.7 million, or 30 percent of total enrollment) were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.

Visit our Fast Fact on distance learning among postsecondary students to learn more about distance learning in the United States.

Attainment (source)

During the 2020–21 academic year, how many degrees did colleges and universities award?

Postsecondary institutions conferred 5 million awards, including

Federal Student Aid (source)

What percentage of undergraduates received federal student aid in 2019–20?

What were the average amounts of federal student aid received during the 2019–20 academic year?

Among undergraduates receiving different types of federal student aid, average award amounts were


1 Except for prekindergarten, counts include prorated estimates of ungraded students as well as students whose grade was not specified.
2 Counts include prorated estimates of ungraded students as well as students whose grade was not specified.
3 Analyses in this section were originally reported in the Condition of Education in May 2023. As part of a post-release quality evaluation of School Pulse Panel (SPP) data, an error was uncovered in the survey weighting procedure. This required a reweighting of the data and a recalculation of estimates released from the January 2022 through December 2022 SPP collections. Estimates in this Fast Fact have been revised as of August, 2023, based on a reweighting of the data. For a description of the reweighting and its effect on the estimates, see this memo at https://ies.ed.gov/schoolsurvey/spp/ReweightingMemo.pdf.
4 Survey respondents were asked to report on the percentage of students performing behind grade level, but were not asked to reference formal assessment results. Some public schools may not have such assessments available at either or both points in the year.
5 This information, reported by school administrators, is an indirect measure of student grade-level performance at two points within the second full school year of the pandemic. For direct measures of student performance across school years, including findings comparing pre-pandemic direct assessment scores to those during the pandemic, see results for Reading Performance and Mathematics Performance from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
6 See footnote 3.
7 Any aid includes all types of financial aid from any source except parents, friends, or relatives. Direct PLUS Loans to parents and other types of aid such as veterans benefits and job training funds are included, but federal tax credits for education are not included. Any aid does not include emergency aid related to COVID-19.

For more information:

NCES publishes a wide range of data on school enrollment, assessments, graduation rates, technology in education, costs of postsecondary education, fields of study (or majors), educational attainment, and employment outcomes in annual publications.

As you can see, NCES publishes data on many topics that may be of interest to you. Consider exploring the Condition of Education, the Digest of Education Statistics, or the Distance Learning Dataset Training modules to learn more.

Additional resources:

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)