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Annual Reports and Information Staff (Annual Reports)
Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education

Enrollment Rates of Young Children

(Last Updated: May 2021)

In 2019, the enrollment rate was higher for 3- to 4-year-olds whose parents had higher levels of educational attainment. Specifically, the enrollment rate for 3- to 4-year-olds ranged from 35 percent for those whose parent(s) had not completed high school to 60 percent for those with at least one parent who had attained a bachelor’s or higher degree. A similar pattern can be observed for the enrollment rates of 5-year-olds.

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 indicator looks at the school enrollment rates of 3- to 5-year-olds. This indicator also compares enrollment rates by various child and family characteristics, within the 3- to 4-year-old and 5-year-old age groups. In this indicator, children who were reported to have attended school in the 3 months preceding the survey are considered to be enrolled in school. Respondents were instructed to include only nursery or preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, or home school.2

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Select a subgroup characteristic from drop-down menu below to view relevant text and figures.

Figure 1. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by age group: 2010 through 2019
Figure 1. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by age group: 2010 through 2019

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the entire population residing within the United States, including those living in group quarters (e.g., shelters, healthcare facilities, or correctional facilities).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2010 through 2019. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 202.20.

Figure 2. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by race/ethnicity: 2019
Figure 2. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by race/ethnicity: 2019

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the entire population residing within the United States, including those living in group quarters (e.g., shelters, healthcare facilities, or correctional facilities). This figure excludes respondents who wrote in some other race that was not included as an option on the questionnaire. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2019. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 202.20.

Figure 3. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by parents’ highest level of educational attainment: 2019
Figure 3. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by parents’ highest level of educational attainment: 2019

1 Includes parents who completed high school through equivalency programs, such as a GED program.

2 Highest education level of any parent residing with the child (including an adoptive or stepparent, excluding a foster parent).

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the entire population residing within the United States, including those living in group quarters (e.g., shelters, healthcare facilities, or correctional facilities). This figure includes only children who resided with at least one of their parents.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2019. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 202.20.

Figure 4. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by household type and parents’ employment status: 2019
Figure 4. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by household type and parents’ employment status: 2019

1 Children in single-parent households resided with only one parent, while those in two-parent households resided with two parents. Estimates for parents' employment status do not include children with at least one parent younger than 16 years old, because the American Community Survey only asks employment questions for those 16 and older.

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the entire population residing within the United States, including those living in group quarters (e.g., shelters, healthcare facilities, or correctional facilities). This figure includes only children who resided with at least one of their parents (including an adoptive or stepparent). Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2019. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 202.20.

Figure 5. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by household poverty status: 2019
Figure 5. Percentage of 3- to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by household poverty status: 2019

NOTE: Includes only children who are related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption. The householder is the person (or one of the people) who owns or rents (maintains) the housing unit. Children are considered to be in poverty if their family income falls below the Census Bureau's poverty threshold, which is a dollar amount that varies depending on a family's size and composition and is updated annually to account for inflation. For example, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $25,926 in 2019. Respondents were interviewed throughout the year and reported on the income they received during the previous 12 months. Poverty status cannot be determined for unrelated children (e.g., foster children) because their family income is not known.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2019. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 202.20.

Figure 6. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by state and comparison with the national average: 2019
Figure 6. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by state and comparison with the national average: 2019

NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the entire population residing within the United States, including those living in group quarters (e.g., shelters, healthcare facilities, or correctional facilities).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2019. See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 202.25.


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 December 8, 2020, from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1993.html.

2 Children in private homes in which essentially custodial care is provided are not considered to be enrolled in school.

3 Analyses by race/ethnicity exclude respondents who wrote in some other race that was not included as an option on the questionnaire.

4 Refers to the highest education level of any parent residing with the child (including an adoptive or stepparent, excluding a foster parent). Analyses by parents’ educational attainment include only children who resided with at least one of their parents.

5 High school completion includes parents who completed high school through equivalency programs, such as a GED program.

6 Children are considered to be in poverty if their family income falls below the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold, which is a dollar amount that varies depending on a family’s size and composition and is updated annually to account for inflation. For example, the poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $25,926 in 2019. In this indicator, 185 percent is presented as a threshold because it is the guideline for reduced-price lunch; children with family incomes that are greater than 185 percent of the Federal income poverty guidelines are not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (see https://www.fns.usda.gov/cnp/fr-032019 for detailed information about Income Eligibility Guidelines).

Supplemental Information

Table 202.20 (Digest 2020): Percentage of 3- to 5-year-old children enrolled in school, by age and selected child and family characteristics: 2010 through 2019;
Table 202.25 (Digest 2020): Percentage of 3- to 5-year-old children enrolled in school, by race/ethnicity and state: 2019
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