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New Data Indicate Nation's Private School Enrollment Held Steady Overall From 2019-20 to 2021-22

December 6, 2023

However, enrollment increased in the early elementary grades

WASHINGTON (December 6, 2023)—The number of students enrolled in K-12 U.S. private schools during the 2021–22 school year was about 4.7 million; there were also about 4.7 million private school students in the 2019-20 academic year, which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that same time period, the number of K-12 private schools decreased by 3 percent, from about 30,500 in 2019–20 to 29,700 in 2021–22, according to data released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

The new data from NCES’s Private School Universe Survey (PSS) also shed light on enrollment changes by grade level in the private school sector overall. Between 2019–20 and 2021–22, increases in the enrollments for grades K–4 varied in the range of 3 to 9 percent depending on the grade. There was no measurable change in the enrollments for grades 5 through 12 during that time period, except for a decrease of 3 percent in grade 11.

The findings for private schools differ from enrollment changes for public schools over the same time period. Contrary to the increases in the lower grades for private school enrollment, between fall 2019 and fall 2021, public school enrollment decreased by 3 to 6 percent in grades K–7, NCES data show. The combined public school enrollment in grades 9–12 increased by 1 percent during this time period, with grade 9 having the largest increase of 3 percent1.

“As the most comprehensive set of private school data produced by NCES, this is the first data source to capture private school enrollment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “The results of this survey, coupled with the enrollment data we have collected from public schools, highlight differences in enrollment patterns across school sectors during a period of unprecedented disruption in U.S education. NCES data will allow us to monitor enrollment to see if these patterns observed during the pandemic hold through the recovery period.”

The data released today are from the Private School Universe Survey, conducted by NCES to collect basic information on American private elementary and secondary schools. PSS is designed to generate biennial data on the total number of private schools, students, and teachers, and to build a universe of private schools to serve as a sampling frame of private schools for other NCES data collections. The 2021–22 private school data were collected between September 2021 and May 2022.

Public-use and restricted-use data files with technical documentation released today are available at: Data on private schools are also available in the Digest of Education Statistics. A sample of tables containing private school data from the Digest are listed below:

Digest of Education Statistics Tables:

Key Findings

  • Overall, the number of students enrolled in K-12 private schools held steady between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years.
    • Enrollment in grades K-4 increased between 3 and 9 percent across these grade levels. Enrollment in grade levels 5-12 held steady, except for 11th grade, where there was a 3 percent decrease compared with 2019-20.
    • Enrollment in combined/other private schools (schools that comprise one or more of grades K-6 and one or more of grades 9-12, or schools that are ungraded) increased by 8 percent.
    • Enrollment in Catholic schools decreased by 4 percent, while enrollment in Other religious schools (Conservative Christian, other affiliated, and unaffiliated religious schools) increased by 8 percent.
  • Overall, the number of K-12 private schools decreased by 3 percent between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years.
    • The number of elementary/middle schools decreased by 6 percent.
    • The number of Catholic schools decreased by 5 percent.
  • The overall number of teachers (FTE) held steady between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years.
    • The number of teachers in elementary/middle schools decreased by 3 percent, while the number of teachers in combined/other schools increased by 5 percent.

1 While the Private School Universe Survey (PSS) data are collected throughout the school year, respondents are instructed to provide the number of students enrolled around the first of October. This aligns with the reporting requirements for the public school enrollment data in the Common Core of Data (CCD) and allows for comparison between the two data sources.

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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition and progress of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

Follow NCES on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube and subscribe to the NCES Newsflash to receive email notifications when new data are released.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent and nonpartisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Its mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.

Josh De La Rosa, National Center for Education Statistics,
Erik Robelen, Hager Sharp,