The Condition of Education


Congress has required that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) produce an annual report to policymakers about the progress of education in the United States. The Condition of Education 2016 presents indicators on important topics and trends in U.S. education. These indicators focus on population characteristics, such as educational attainment and economic outcomes; participation in education at all levels; and several contextual aspects of education, including international comparisons, for elementary and secondary education and postsecondary education. In addition, The Condition of Education 2016 features three Spotlight indicators that describe relationships between early learning behaviors, early academic gains, and family socioeconomic status; differences in postsecondary enrollment among high school completers; and differences in post-bachelor’s employment outcomes by occupation, sex, and race/ethnicity.


This chapter of The Condition of Education features spotlight indicators on selected issues of current policy interest.

Population Characteristics

The indicators in this chapter of The Condition of Education report on educational attainment and economic outcomes for the United States as a whole. The level of education attained by an individual has implications for his or her median earnings and other labor outcomes, such as unemployment. Comparisons at the national level to other industrialized nations provide insight into our global competitiveness. In addition, this chapter contains indicators on key demographic characteristics, such as poverty.

Participation in Education

The indicators in this chapter of The Condition of Education describe trends in enrollments across all levels of education. Enrollment is a key indicator of the scope of and access to educational opportunities, and functions as a basic descriptor of American education. Changes in enrollment may impact the demand for educational resources such as qualified teachers, physical facilities, and funding levels, all of which are required to provide high-quality education for our nation’s students.

The indicators in this chapter include information on enrollment rates by age group as well as by level of the education system, namely, preprimary, elementary and secondary, undergraduate, graduate and professional, and adult education. Some of the indicators in this chapter provide information about the characteristics of the students who are enrolled in formal education and, in some cases, how enrollment rates of different types of students vary across schools.

Elementary and Secondary Education

The indicators in this chapter of The Condition of Education measure aspects of elementary and secondary education in the United States. The indicators examine school characteristics and climate; principals, teachers and staff; elementary and secondary financial resources; student assessments; and other measures of the progress students make as they move through the education system, such as graduation rates.

In this chapter, particular attention is given to how various subgroups in the population proceed through school and attain different levels of education, as well as the factors that are associated with their progress along the way. The indicators on student achievement illustrate how students are performing on assessments in reading, mathematics, science, and other academic subject areas. Other indicators describe aspects of the context of learning in elementary and secondary schools.

Postsecondary Education

The indicators in this chapter of The Condition of Education examine features of postsecondary education, many of which parallel those presented in the previous chapter on elementary and secondary education. The indicators describe characteristics of postsecondary students, postsecondary programs and courses of study, finance and resources, and postsecondary completions. Postsecondary education is characterized by diversity both in the types of institutions and in the characteristics of students. Postsecondary institutions vary by the types of degrees awarded, control (public or private), and whether they are operated on a nonprofit or for-profit basis. In addition, postsecondary institutions have distinctly different missions and provide students with a wide range of learning environments.


For more information, visit NCES Condition of Education website.