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Preprimary education enrollment

Question:
What percentage of children are enrolled in preprimary education?

Response:

Research has shown that children’s lifelong well-being is positively associated with early childhood services, including formal schooling such as preschool and kindergarten; this relationship is especially noteworthy among children at greater risk of poor outcomes for lifelong well-being.1 As formal schooling is an important component of early childhood services, this Fast Fact looks at the school enrollment rates of 3- to 5-year-olds using 2020 data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), October Supplement. This Fast Fact also compares enrollment rates by various child and family characteristics, within the 3- to 4-year-old and 5-year-old age groups. Using 2019 data from the American Community Survey (ACS), this Fast Fact also presents the enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds by state.2

In 2020, about 55 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in school overall. The enrollment rate was higher for 5-year-olds than for 3- to 4-year-olds (84 vs. 40 percent).3 For both age groups, enrollment rates were lower than they had been in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, enrollment rates for 5-year-olds fell 6 percentage points (from 91 to 84 percent), while enrollment rates for 3- to 4-year-olds fell 13 percentage points (from 54 to 40 percent). In comparison, there was no measurable difference in enrollment rates for either age group in 2019 compared with 2010.4

Overall, there were few measurable differences in enrollment rates of young children by racial/ethnic group or by sex in 2020. The 2020 enrollment rates were higher for 3- to 4-year-olds who were of Two or more races (47 percent) and White (43 percent) than for those who were Hispanic (33 percent). However, the enrollment rates for 3- to 4-year-olds did not vary across other racial/ethnic groups.5 Additionally, the enrollment rates for 5-year-olds did not measurably differ across racial/ethnic groups.6 In 2020, enrollment rates did not measurably differ by sex for either 3- to 4-year-olds or 5-year-olds (not shown in the figure).

1 Cannon, J.S., Kilburn, M.R., Karoly, L.A., Mattox, T., Muchow, A.N., and Buenaventura, M. (2017). Investing Early: Taking Stock of Outcomes and Economic Returns From Early Childhood Programs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1993.html.
2 Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on response rates and survey administration, the Census Bureau changed the 2020 American Community Survey (ACS) release status to an experimental data product, meaning that it does not meet the Census Bureau’s typical quality standards. Due to limitations of comparability over time for the experimental data product, NCES is presenting 2019 data that are comparable with prior years. For more information see https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2021/acs/2021_CensusBureau_01.pdf.
3 As of 2017, there were 47 states—plus the District of Columbia—that required that free education be offered by age 5; however, schooling was only compulsory for 5-year-olds in 10 states and the District of Columbia (see Compulsory school attendance laws, minimum and maximum age limits for required free education, by state: 2017).
4 For historical data on enrollment rates for 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds, see Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 202.10.
5 The enrollment rate for Pacific Islander 3- to 4-year-olds did not meet reporting standards in 2020.
6 The enrollment rates for Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native 5-year-olds did not meet reporting standards in 2020.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Enrollment Rates of Young Children. The Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cfa.

Numbers in figure titles reflect original numeration from source Condition of Education indicators.

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