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Digest of Education Statistics: 2006
Digest of Education Statistics: 2006

NCES 2007-017
July 2007

Chapter 1: All Levels of Education

This chapter provides a broad overview of education in the United States. It brings together material from preprimary, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, as well as from the general population to present a composite picture of the American educational system. Tables feature data on the total number of persons enrolled in school, the number of teachers, the number of schools, and total expenditures for education at all levels. This chapter also includes statistics on education related topics such as educational attainment, family characteristics, population, and opinions about schools. Economic indicators and price indexes have been added to facilitate analyses.

Figure 1 shows the structure of education in the United States. It presents the three levels of formal education (elementary, secondary, and postsecondary) and gives the approximate age range of persons at the elementary and secondary levels. Students ordinarily spend from 6 to 8 years in the elementary grades, which may be preceded by 1 to 3 years in nursery school and kindergarten. The elementary school program is followed by a 4 to 6 year program in secondary school. Students normally complete the entire program through grade 12 by age 18.

High school graduates who decide to continue their education may enter a technical or vocational institution, a 2-year community or junior college, or a 4 year college or university. A 2 year college normally offers the first 2 years of a standard 4 year college curriculum and a selection of terminal vocational programs. Academic courses completed at a 2 year college are usually transferable for credit at a 4 year college or university. A technical or vocational institution offers postsecondary technical training leading to a specific career.

An associate's degree requires at least 2 years of college level work, and a bachelor's degree normally requires 4 years of college-level coursework. At least 1 year of coursework beyond the bachelor's is necessary for a master's degree, while a doctor's degree usually requires a minimum of 3 or 4 years beyond the bachelor's.

Professional schools differ widely in admission requirements and program length. Medical students, for example, generally complete a bachelor's program of premedical studies at a college or university before they can enter the 4 year program at a medical school. Law programs normally require 3 years of coursework beyond the bachelor's degree level.

Many of the statistics in this chapter are derived from the statistical activities of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In addition, substantial contributions have been drawn from the work of other groups, both governmental and nongovernmental, as shown in the source notes of the tables. Information on survey methodologies is contained in Appendix A: Guide to Sources and in the publications cited in the table source notes.

Enrollment and Teachers

Enrollment in elementary and secondary schools grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s and reached a peak in 1971 (table 3 and figure 2). This enrollment rise was caused by what is known as the "baby boom," a dramatic increase in births following World War II. From 1971 to 1984, total elementary and secondary school enrollment decreased every year, reflecting the decline in the school age population over that period. After these years of decline, enrollment in elementary and secondary schools started increasing in fall 1985, and began hitting new record enrollment levels in the mid-1990s.

Public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 8 rose from 29.9 million in fall 1990 to 34.2 million in 2003, with a projected enrollment of 33.9 million for fall 2006 (table 3). Public school enrollment in the upper grades rose from 11.3 million in 1990 to 14.6 million in 2004, with a projected enrollment of 15.0 million for 2006. The growing numbers of young pupils who have been filling the elementary schools will cause some increases at the secondary school level through 2007. Between fall 2003 and fall 2005, public elementary enrollment is expected to decrease slightly, and then increase again between 2006 and 2015 (the last year for which NCES has projected school enrollment). Public secondary enrollment is projected to rise through 2007, and then decline until 2014. Overall, school enrollment is projected to set new records every year from 2006 until at least 2015.

The proportion of students in private elementary and secondary schools changed little over the 10 years preceding 2003, remaining between 11 and 12 percent (table 3). The percentage of college students who attended private colleges and universities rose from 22 to 26 percent between 1995 and 2005. In 2006, a projected 6.1 million students were enrolled in private schools at the elementary and secondary levels and 4.3 million students were in private degree-granting institutions.

College enrollment reached 14.5 million in fall 1992 and decreased to 14.3 million in fall 1995 (table 3). Total college enrollment increased between 1995 and 2005, and further increases are expected through 2015.

School enrollment rates among 5- and 6-year-olds, 7- to 13-year-olds, and 14- to 17-year-olds remained relatively steady between 1995 and 2005 (table 7). The proportion of 18- and 19-year-olds enrolled in school rose from 59 to 68 percent between 1995 and 2005, while the proportion of 20- to 24-year-olds enrolled in school rose from 31 to 36 percent.

The percentages of adults 25 years old and over completing high school and pursuing higher education have been rising. In 2006, 85 percent of the population 25 years old and over had completed at least high school and 28 percent had completed a bachelor's or higher degree (table 8 and figure 3). This is higher than in 1996, when 82 percent had completed at least high school and 24 percent had completed a bachelor's or higher degree. In 2006, about 7 percent of persons 25 years old or over held a master's degree as their highest degree, 2 percent held a professional degree (e.g., medicine or law), and 1 percent held a doctor's degree (table 9 and figure 5).

An estimated 3.6 million elementary and secondary school full-time-equivalent teachers were engaged in classroom instruction in the fall of 2006 (table 4). This number has risen about 19 percent since 1996. The number of public school teachers in 2006 was about 3.2 million, and the number in private schools was estimated at 0.5 million.


Expenditures of educational institutions rose to an estimated high of $922 billion in the 2005–06 school year (table 26). Elementary and secondary schools spent about 61 percent of this total, and colleges and universities accounted for the remaining 39 percent. After adjustment for inflation, total expenditures for all educational institutions rose by an estimated 41 percent between 1995–96 and 2005–06. Expenditures for elementary and secondary schools rose by an estimated 36 percent during this period, while total expenditures for colleges and universities rose by 48 percent. In 2005–06, expenditures of educational institutions were an estimated 7.4 percent of the gross domestic product (table 25).