This introduction to the Digest of Education Statistics 2021 provides a brief overview of current trends in American education and highlights key data on topics of current interest. Although the Introduction focuses on more recent trends at the national level, the Digest of Education Statistics also contains long-term trend data spanning up to 100 years and many tables with breakouts by state and subgroups.
Detailed data are available in the Digest tables, which can be accessed from the Most Current Digest Tables page. For instance:
The blog post Tips for Navigating the Digest of Education Statistics provides additional information on how to navigate the Digest. In addition to the highlights below, the Digest includes other topics such as federal funds for education, international comparisons of education, and school crime and environment and provides supplemental information including population trends and characteristics of households with children that serves as background for evaluating education data. Unless otherwise noted, data on enrollments, teachers, and faculty are for fall of the given year.
The 2021 edition of the Digest is the 57th in a series of publications initiated in 1962. While the Digest provides an introduction to education-related data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics and nearly 200 other government or nongovernment sources, it is not meant to report on every aspect of these data.
The U.S. population has become more educated over time. For example, national data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement indicate the percentage of people age 25 and over who had completed at least high school increased from 87 percent to 91 percent between 2010 and 2021 (table 104.10). Similarly, the percentage of people age 25 and over who had attained a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 30 percent to 38 percent between 2010 and 2021.
Despite recent gains in educational attainment, differences remain by race/ethnicity.1 In 2021, the percentage of people age 25 and over who had completed at least high school ranged from 95 percent for those who were White to 74 percent for those who were Hispanic (table 104.10). The percentage of people age 25 and over who had attained a bachelor's or higher degree in 2021 ranged from 62 percent for those who were Asian to 20 percent for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native.
Differences in educational attainment are also observed by state. In 2019, the most recent year for which state-level data were available from the American Community Survey (ACS), the percentage of people age 25 and over who had completed at least high school ranged from 84 percent in California and 85 percent each in Mississippi and Texas to 94 percent each in Alaska and Montana and 95 percent in Wyoming (table 104.80). In that same year, the percentage of those who had attained a bachelor's degree or higher ranged from 22 percent each in West Virginia and Mississippi to 45 percent in Massachusetts and 60 percent in the District of Columbia.
Higher educational attainment is associated with better labor force outcomes including labor force participation and earnings. For example, in 2021, the unemployment rate—the percentage of people in the labor force who are not employed and who have made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the prior 4 weeks—of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor's or higher degree (4 percent) was lower than the corresponding rates for those who had completed some college but not a bachelor's degree (9 percent), those who had completed high school only (10 percent), and those who had not completed high school (11 percent, table 501.80). Additionally, the unemployment rate for those who had completed some college but not a bachelor's degree was lower than the rate for those who had completed high school only.
In 2021, the employment-to-population ratio—the percentage of the population that is employed—of 25- to 34-year-olds was generally higher for those with higher levels of educational attainment (table 501.50). For example, the employment-to-population ratio for those who had not completed high school was 53 percent, compared with 68 percent for those who had completed high school only, 75 percent for those with some college but no bachelor's degree, and 86 percent for those with a bachelor's or higher degree.
In 2020, median annual earnings of full-time, year-round workers 25 to 34 years old were also generally higher for those with higher levels of educational attainment (table 502.30 and Figure 1). For example, the annual median earnings in current (2020) dollars for those who had completed high school only were $36,600, compared with those with some college but no degree ($39,900), those with an associate's degree ($44,100), and those with a bachelor's or higher degree ($61,100).
Figure 1. Median annual earnings of full-time, year-round workers ages 25–34, by educational attainment: 2020
1 Includes equivalency credentials, such as the GED.
NOTE: Data are based on sample surveys of the noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities) and military barracks. Full-time, year-round workers are those who worked 35 or more hours per week for 50 or more weeks per year. Caution should be used due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates. For additional information about impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement data collection, please see https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar21.pdf.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2021. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 502.30.
In 2020, the median annual earnings of full-time, year-round workers 25 to 34 years old were generally higher for males than for females at each level of education, with the exception of those who did not complete high school, for whom the earnings for males and females were not measurably different (table 502.30). Among workers who had completed high school only, the median annual earnings for those who were White were higher than the earnings for those who were Black, Hispanic, and Asian but not measurably different from the earnings for those who were of Two or more races. Among workers with a bachelor's or higher degree, the median annual earnings of those who were Asian were highest, followed by the earnings of those who were White.
Available data show the pandemic's impact on public school enrollment, homeschooling, and preprimary enrollment. Between 1985 and 2019, public school fall enrollment increased from 39.4 million to 50.8 million students (table 203.10). Enrollment in public schools then dropped in 2020—the first school year after the coronavirus pandemic began—by 3 percent (1.4 million students) to 49.4 million students. In 2020, some 1.2 million students were enrolled in prekindergarten in public schools, which represented a drop of 22 percent (0.4 million students) from 2019. Similarly, enrollment in kindergarten dropped by 9 percent (0.3 million students) between 2019 and 2020, from 3.7 million to 3.4 million students. Enrollment in grades 1 through 8 dropped by 3 percent (0.8 million students) between 2019 and 2020, from 30.2 million to 29.4 million students. In contrast, the number of students enrolled in public schools in grades 9 through 12 was higher in 2020 (15.3 million) than in 2019 (15.2 million).
In 2019, the number of students enrolled in private schools (5.5 million) was not measurably different from 2009, but it was lower than the number of students in 2015 (5.8 million; table 205.20). Among private school students in 2019, some 0.8 million students were enrolled in prekindergarten in schools that also offered higher grades, 3.2 million students were enrolled in kindergarten through grade 8, and 1.4 million students were enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
In 2019, data from the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey (PFI) of the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) Program indicate 2.8 percent of 5- to 17-year-old children were homeschooled (table 206.10). Homeschooling rates ranged from 1.2 percent for Black children to 4.0 percent for White children. In 2020–21, according to the Household Pulse Survey (HPS),2 some 5.4 percent of children under age 18 were reported to be homeschooled (table 206.60). Reported rates of homeschooling ranged from 2.6 percent of children living in households with an Asian respondent to 8.1 percent of children living in households with a respondent who reported they were Pacific Islander alone, American Indian/Alaska Native alone, or of Two or more races. Caution should be used when comparing the homeschooling rates across different surveys due to different definitions of homeschooling.3
In 2020, national data from the CPS, October Supplement indicate 55 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in school (table 202.20 and Figure 2). This percentage was lower than the percentage for any year in the previous decade (ranging from 65 percent to 67 percent in the years between 2010 and 2019). In 2019, according to ACS, the percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in school ranged from 45 percent in North Dakota and 47 percent in Idaho to 77 percent in New Jersey and 88 percent in the District of Columbia (table 202.25).
Figure 2. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in school, by age group: 2010 through 2020
NOTE: Data exclude children living in institutions.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (CPS), October, 2010 through 2020. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 202.20.
Between 2010 and 2019, the number of public school teachers employed in the United States increased from 3.1 million to 3.2 million (table 208.20). However, the number of pupils per teacher—that is, the pupil/teacher ratio—remained stable in public schools between those same years, as public school enrollment also increased. In 2019, the national pupil/teacher ratio in public schools was 15.9, and state-level ratios ranged from 10.8 in Vermont and 12.1 each in New Jersey and New Hampshire to 23.0 in California and 23.6 in Arizona (table 208.40).
Between 2009 and 2019, the number of public charter schools increased from 5,000 to 7,500 (table 216.10). In fall 2019, enrollment in charter schools as a percentage of total public school enrollment was highest in Arizona (19 percent) and the District of Columbia (43 percent; table 216.90 and Figure 3). Seven states did not have any students enrolled in public charter schools: Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Additionally, less than one-half of one percent of public school students in Iowa, Virginia, Alabama, Washington, and Mississippi were enrolled in charter schools.
Figure 3. Percentage of all public school students enrolled in public charter schools, categorized into specific ranges, by state: Fall 2019
# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: U.S. average in this figure represents the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Categorizations are based on unrounded percentages.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey," 2019–20. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 216.90.
Between 2010–11 and 2019–20, the national public high school 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) increased from 79 percent to 87 percent (table 219.46). In 2019–20, Asian/Pacific Islander students had the highest ACGR (93 percent), followed by those who were White (90 percent), Hispanic (83 percent), Black (81 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (75 percent). In that same year, the ACGR ranged from 73 percent in the District of Columbia and 77 percent each in New Mexico and Arizona to 92 percent each in West Virginia and Iowa.
In 2020, the average reading and mathematics scale scores for 9-year-olds as assessed with the long-term trend National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were not measurably different from the scores reported in the two most recent prior assessment years, 2008 and 2012 (tables 221.85 and 222.85). While the average reading and mathematics achievement scores for 13-year-olds in 2020 were not measurably different from the scores in 2008, they were lower than the scores in 2012.
Performance on the reading and mathematics assessments in 2020 varied by student characteristics for 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds (tables 221.85 and 222.85). For example, female 13-year-olds had higher average scale scores in reading than their male peers, but male 13-year-olds had higher average scale scores in mathematics than their female peers. In both subjects, White 13-year-olds had higher average scale scores than those who were Hispanic, and White and Hispanic 13-year-olds both had higher average scale scores than those who were Black. In that same year, 13-year-olds with at least one parent who had graduated from college had the highest average scale scores for reading and mathematics, followed by those whose parents' highest level of educational attainment was some education after high school but no college degree. When considering parental education level, the average 2020 scale scores for 13-year-olds in both subjects were lowest among those whose parents did not finish high school and those whose parents had completed high school only.
After adjustment for inflation, current expenditures per pupil in public elementary and secondary schools generally increased between 1985–86 and 2018–19, from $8,414 to $13,701 (in constant 2020–21 dollars; table 236.55). More recently, these expenditures have increased every year between 2012–13 ($12,251 per pupil) and 2018–19. At the state level in 2018–19, current expenditures per pupil ranged from $8,260 in Utah and $8,357 in Idaho to $23,722 in the District of Columbia and $25,853 in New York (table 236.65).
In 2020, some 19.0 million students were enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions (table 303.10). This was the lowest number of students since 2008 (19.1 million) and 2.0 million fewer students than the all-time highest enrollment in 2010 (21.0 million). Between 2019 and 2020, postsecondary enrollment dropped by 3 percent (0.6 million students), which was the largest single-year drop in enrollment between 2008 and 2020.
Among the 19.0 million students enrolled in 2020, about three-quarters (74 percent, or 14.1 million students) were enrolled in 4-year institutions and the remaining students were enrolled in 2-year institutions (26 percent, or 4.9 million students; table 303.60). The majority of students attended public institutions (73 percent, or 13.9 million students), followed by private nonprofit institutions (22 percent, or 4.1 million students) and private for-profit institutions (5 percent, or 1.0 million students). Some 61 percent (11.6 million) of students attended full time, and the remaining 39 percent (7.4 million) attended part time.
A higher percentage of students were female (59 percent, or 11.1 million students) than were male (41 percent, or 7.9 million students; table 303.60). This pattern of higher female enrollment than male enrollment was observed among the 15.9 million undergraduate students (58 vs. 42 percent, or 9.2 million vs. 6.7 million students) and among the 3.1 million postbaccalaureate students (61 vs. 39 percent, or 1.9 million vs. 1.2 million students).
In each year between 2009 and 2020, more female than male undergraduate students were enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions (table 303.70 and Figure 4). For example, 9.2 million female undergraduates were enrolled in 2020, compared with 6.7 million male undergraduates in the same year. Between 2019 and 2020, male undergraduate enrollment dropped by 499,100 students (8 percent), compared with a drop of 206,500 students (2 percent) in female undergraduate enrollment.
Figure 4. Actual and projected undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by sex: Fall 2009 through fall 2030
NOTE: Data are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Degree-granting institutions grant associate's or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Projections were calculated after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and take into account the expected impacts of the pandemic. Some data have been revised from previously published figures.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2010 through Spring 2021, Fall Enrollment component. Enrollment in Degree-Granting Institutions Projection Model, through 2030. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 303.70
In 2020, the majority of undergraduate students enrolled at degree-granting postsecondary institutions were White (8.1 million students, or 52.8 percent of students for whom race/ethnicity was reported; table 306.10 and Figure 5). Lower numbers of undergraduates were Hispanic (3.3 million students, or 21.8 percent), Black (2.0 million students, or 13.0 percent), Asian (1.1 million students, or 7.2 percent), of Two or more races (669,000 students, or 4.3 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (107,300 students, or 0.7 percent), and Pacific Islander (42,500 students, or 0.3 percent). The remaining 468,900 undergraduate students were nonresident aliens for whom race/ethnicity information is not collected.
Figure 5. Undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity and nonresident alien status: Fall 2009 and fall 2020
— Not available.
# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Data are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Disaggregated data on undergraduate students who were Asian, Pacific Islander, and of Two or more races were not collected in 2009. In 2009, data for undergraduate students who were Asian included students who were Pacific Islander. In 2009, students of Two or more races were required to select a single category from among the offered race/ethnicity categories (i.e., White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native). Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Race/ethnicity categories exclude nonresident aliens. Degree-granting institutions grant associate's or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2010 and Spring 2021, Fall Enrollment component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 306.10; and Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 306.10
In 2020, there were 3.8 million employees at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, and 39 percent of those employees (1.5 million) were faculty (table 314.20). The number of employees at postsecondary institutions increased between 2009 and 2019 (from 3.7 million to 4.0 million), as did the number of faculty at postsecondary institutions (from 1.4 million to 1.5 million). From 2019 to 2020, the number of employees at postsecondary institutions dropped by 152,000 employees, 59,400 of whom were faculty. However, the numbers of employees and faculty at postsecondary institutions in 2020 were still higher than 2009 levels, and the percentage of employees who were faculty remained stable during this period.
In 2020, the ratio of full-time equivalent (FTE) students to FTE faculty varied by state and control of institution. Among public 4-year institutions, the ratio of FTE students to FTE faculty ranged from 7.0 in the District of Columbia and 8.0 in Alaska to 18.0 in Arizona and 19.1 in Florida (table 314.50). Among public 2-year institutions, the ratio of FTE students to FTE faculty ranged from 8.6 in New Hampshire and 10.6 in Wisconsin to 22.6 in Florida and 22.8 in Virginia. Among private nonprofit 4-year institutions, the ratio of FTE students to FTE faculty ranged more widely from 5.8 in Alaska and 5.9 in Maryland to 24.2 in New Hampshire and 34.9 in Utah (table 314.60). The ratio of FTE students to FTE faculty ranged most widely among private for-profit institutions, from 7.1 in Nebraska and 7.9 in the District of Columbia to 48.5 in Mississippi and 48.8 in Arkansas.
The number of degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions increased at all levels between 2009–10 and 2019–20 (table 318.10). The number of associate's degrees conferred rose from 849,000 in 2009–10 to 1.0 million in 2019–20. In each year of this period, about half of all conferred degrees were bachelor's degrees, more than any other level of degree. The number of bachelor's degrees conferred increased from 1.6 million in 2009–10 to 2.0 million in 2019–20. During the same period, the number of master's degrees conferred increased from 693,000 to 843,000 and the number of doctor's degrees conferred increased from 159,000 to 190,000.
Between 2012–13 and 2020–21, the number of postsecondary degree-granting institutions decreased by almost 800 institutions, from 4,726 to 3,931 institutions (table 317.10). This decrease was mainly attributable to the decrease in the number of private for-profit institutions during this same period, from 1,451 to 704 institutions. There were fewer public and private nonprofit institutions in 2020–21 than in 2012–13, but the numbers of these institutions generally fluctuated during the period.
Between 2010–11 and 2020–21, the average price charged for full-time students' undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at 4-year degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased across institution controls (table 330.10 and Figure 6). The average price charged increased 13 percent at public 4-year institutions, from $18,900 to $21,300 (in constant 2020–21 dollars). At private nonprofit 4-year institutions, the average price charged increased 14 percent, from $43,300 to $49,300, whereas the average price charged at private for-profit 4-year institutions increased 2 percent, from $27,200 to $27,700. The average charge of in-state tuition and required fees for full-time students in public 4-year institutions was $9,400 in the United States in 2020–21 (table 330.20). However, this amount varied by state, ranging from $4,500 in Florida and $4,800 in Wyoming to $16,700 in New Hampshire and $17,600 in Vermont.
Figure 6. Average annual undergraduate tuition and fees for full-time students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level and control of institution: Academic years 2010–11 through 2020–21
NOTE: Data in this table represent the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Degree-granting institutions grant associate's or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. Some data have been revised from previously published figures. For public institutions, in-state tuition and required fees are used. Tuition and fees are weighted by the number of full-time-equivalent undergraduates. Constant dollars are based on the Consumer Price Index, prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, adjusted to an academic-year basis.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011 through Spring 2021, Fall Enrollment component, and Fall 2010 through Fall 2020, Institutional Characteristics component. See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 330.10.
Recent increases in the average price for undergraduate education have coincided with changes in financial aid awarded. Between 2009–10 and 2019–20, the percentage of first-time, full-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students awarded aid increased from 81 to 85 percent (table 331.20). During the same period, the average amount awarded in 2020–21 constant dollars increased for state/local grants (from $3,400 to $3,900) and institutional grants (from $9,300 to $12,000) and decreased for student loans (from $8,500 to $7,600) and federal grants (from $5,700 to $4,700). Among the students who completed an undergraduate certificate or degree in 2017–18, some 52 percent had ever received a federal loan and 10 percent had ever received a parent PLUS loan (table 331.95). Among those who had received that type of loan, the average cumulative federal loan amount was $23,000 and the average cumulative parent PLUS loan amount was $30,900 in current (2017–18) dollars.
Between 2009–10 and 2019–20, total expenditures per FTE student increased 16 percent at public 4-year institutions (from $43,300 to $50,500 in constant 2020–21 dollars; table 334.10), 24 percent at public 2-year institutions (from $14,500 to $18,000), and 17 percent at private nonprofit 4-year institutions (from $55,900 to $65,200; table 334.30). Total expenditures per FTE student were also higher in 2019–20 than in 2009–10 at private nonprofit 2-year institutions ($26,200 vs. $23,100), private for-profit 4-year institutions ($17,100 vs. $16,600; table 334.50), and private for-profit 2-year institutions ($16,200 vs. $15,300). However, total expenditures per FTE student fluctuated over time and did not increase steadily at these levels and controls of institution.
In 2019–20, the expenditures of public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit postsecondary institutions consisted of a variety of expenditures for different purposes. Across the controls of institution, private nonprofit institutions had the largest percentage of expenditures with an instruction purpose (30 percent, or $67.3 billion; table 334.30), followed by private for-profit institutions (28 percent, or $3.5 billion; table 334.50) and public institutions (27 percent, or $115.5 billion; table 334.10). Instruction was the largest purpose of expenditure among public and private nonprofit institutions. In contrast, the largest purpose of expenditure at private for-profit institutions was academic support, student services, and institutional support (65 percent, or $8.1 billion).
1 Unless otherwise noted, race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity in all Digest of Education Statistics 2021 tables.
2 Data from the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) are considered experimental and do not meet National Center for Education Statistics standards for response rates. HPS is an Interagency Federal Statistical Rapid Response Survey to Measure Household Experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with 16 other federal agencies and offices. The response rate for the period reported was 6.6 percent.
3 The Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey (PFI) defines homeschooled students as school-age children (ages 5–17) who receive instruction at home instead of at a public or private school either all or most of the time. The 2019 homeschooling estimates exclude students who were enrolled in public or private school more than 24 hours per week and students who were homeschooled only because of temporary illness. The Household Pulse Survey (HPS) asked respondents to report homeschooled students as those enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade or grade equivalent but not enrolled in public or private school.