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Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics: 2001, Chapter 1
March 1, 2002

The State of U.S. Education: 2001

In the fall of 2001, about 68.5 million persons were enrolled in American schools and colleges. About 4.3 million were employed as elementary and secondary school teachers and as college faculty. Other professional, administrative, and support staff of educational institutions numbered 4.8 million. Thus about 78 million people were involved, directly or indirectly, in providing or receiving formal education. In a nation with a population of about 281 million, more than 1 out of every 4 persons participated in formal education.

Elementary/Secondary Enrollment

Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools rose 20 percent between 1985 and 2001. The fastest public school growth occurred in the elementary grades, where enrollment rose 24 percent over the same period, from 27.0 million to 33.6 million. Private school enrollment grew more slowly than public school enrollment over this period, rising 7 percent, from 5.6 million in 1985 to 5.9 million in 2001.

As a result, the proportion of students enrolled in private schools declined slightly, from 12 percent in 1985 to 11 percent in 2001. Since the enrollment rates of kindergarten and elementary school age children have not changed much in recent years, increases in elementary school enrollment have been driven primarily by increases in the number of children. Public secondary school enrollments declined 8 percent from 1985 to 1990, but then rose 20 percent from 1990 to 2001, for a net increase of 10 percent.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) forecasts record levels of total elementary and secondary enrollment for the next several years as the school-age population crests. The fall 2001 public school enrollment marks a new record, and new records are expected every year through the early 2000s. Public elementary school enrollments is projected to decline slowly until the later part of the decade and then increase, so that the fall 2011 projection is slightly lower than the 2001 enrollment. In contrast, public secondary school enrollment is expected to increase 3 percent between 2001 and 2011.

College Enrollment

College enrollment hit a record level of 14.8 million in fall 1999 and another record of 15.3 million is expected for 2001. College enrollment is expected to increase by an additional 16 percent between 2001 and 2011. Despite decreases in the traditional college-age population during the 1980s and early 1990s, total enrollment increased because of the high enrollment rate of older women and recent high school graduates. Between 1990 and 1999, the number of full-time students increased by 12 percent compared to no increase in part-time students.


An estimated 3.6 million elementary and secondary school teachers were engaged in classroom instruction in the fall of 2001. This number has risen in recent years, up about 29 percent since 1990. The number of public school teachers in 2001 was 3.1 million, and the number of private school teachers was about 0.4 million.

The number of public school teachers has risen slightly faster than the number of students over the past 10 years, resulting in small declines in the pupil/teacher ratio. In the fall of 2000, there were an estimated 16.0 public school pupils per teacher, compared with 17.2 public school pupils per teacher 10 years earlier. Over the same period, the pupil/teacher ratio in private schools decreased from 14.7 to 13.9. Data from the end of the 1990s suggest a continuation of the historical trend toward lower public school pupil/teacher ratios, which had been stable during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The salaries of public school teachers, which lost purchasing power to inflation during the 1970s, rose faster than the inflation rate in the 1980s. Since 1990–91, salaries for teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation. The average salary for teachers in 2000–01 was $42,898, about the same in constant dollars as at the beginning of the decade.

Faculty and Staff in Postsecondary Education

In the fall of 1999, there were 1,028,000 faculty members in degree-granting institutions. Making up this figure were 591,000 full-time and 437,000 part-time faculty. In 1998, full-time instructional faculty and staff generally taught more hours and more students than part-time instructors, with 21 percent of full-time instructors teaching 15 or more hours per week and 13 percent teaching 150 or more students. About 9 percent of part-time instructors taught 15 or more hours per week, and 4 percent taught 150 or more students.

White males constituted a disproportionate share of full-time college faculty in 1999. Overall, about 54 percent of full-time faculty were white males. However, this distribution varied substantially by rank of faculty. Among full professors, the proportion of white males was 71 percent. The proportion was somewhat lower among the lower ranked faculty, with white males making up 40 percent of the lecturers.

Student Performance

Most of the student performance data in the Digest are drawn from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP assessments have been conducted using three basic designs. The main NAEP reports current information for the nation and specific geographic regions of the country. It includes students drawn from both public and non-public schools and reports results for student achievement at grades 4, 8, and 12. The main NAEP assessments follow the frameworks developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, and use the latest advances in assessment methodology.

Since 1990, NAEP assessments have also been conducted on the state level. States that choose to participate receive assessment results that report on the performance of students in that state. In its content, the state assessment is identical to the assessment conducted nationally. However, because the national NAEP samples were not, and are not currently designed to support the reporting of accurate and representative state-level results, separate representative samples of students are selected for each participating jurisdiction/state.

NAEP long-term trend assessments are designed to give information on the changes in the basic achievement of America’s youth since the early 1970s. They are administered nationally and report student performance at ages 9, 13, and 17 and in grades 4, 8, and 11 in writing. Measuring trends of student achievement or change over time requires the precise replication of past procedures. Therefore, the long-term trend instrument does not evolve based on changes in curricula or in educational practices.


Overall achievement scores on the long-term trend reading assessment for the country’s 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students are mixed. Reading performance scores for 9- and 13-year-olds were higher in 1999 than they were in 1971. However, the 1999 scores were about the same as the 1984 scores. The reading performance of 17-year-olds was about the same in 1999 as it was in 1971.

Black 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds exhibited higher reading performance in 1999 than in 1971. However, performance for all three age groups in 1984 was about the same as in 1999. The performance levels of white 9- and 13-year-olds also rose between 1971 and 1999. Separate data for Hispanics were not gathered in 1971, but changes between 1975 and 1999 indicate an increase in performance among 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds. There was no significant difference between the 1984 and 1999 reading performance of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old Hispanics.


Results from assessments of mathematics proficiency indicate that scores of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students were higher in 1999 than in 1973, but have remained unchanged since 1994. This pattern was similar for white, black, and Hispanic students.

A 2000 voluntary assessment of the states found that mathematics proficiency varied widely among eighth-graders in the 44 participating jurisdictions (39 states, American Samoa, Guam, Department of Defense overseas and domestic schools, and the District of Columbia). Overall, 65 percent of these eighth-grade students performed at or above the Basic level in mathematics, and 26 percent performed at or above the Proficient level. Only four jurisdictions (one state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and Guam) had significantly fewer than 50 percent of students performing at least at the Basic level in math.


Long-term changes in science performance have been mixed, though changes over the past 10 years have been generally positive. In 1999, science performance among 17-year-olds was lower than in 1969, but higher than in 1990. The science performance level of 13-year-olds in 1999 was about the same as the level in 1970 and in 1990. The science performance of 9-year-olds increased between 1970 and 1999, but there was no significant difference between 1990 and 1999.

International Comparisons

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study–Repeat (TIMSS–R), which was conducted in 1999 (4 years after the original TIMMS) focuses on the mathematics and science achievement of eighth-graders in 38 countries. In TIMSS–R, the international average score of the 38 participating countries was 487 in mathematics and 488 in science. In 1999, U.S. eighth-graders on average scored higher in both mathematics and science than the international average of the 38 countries. In mathematics, the average U.S. score was higher than the score in 17 countries, similar to the score in 6 countries, and lower than the score in 14 countries. In science, the average U.S. score was higher than the score in 18 countries, similar to the score in 5 countries, and lower than the score in 14 countries in 1999.

Graduates and Degrees

The estimated number of high school graduates in 2000–01 totaled 2.8 million. Approximately 2.5 million graduated from public schools, and 0.3 million graduated from private schools. The number of high school graduates has declined from its peak in 1976–77 when 3.2 million people earned their diplomas. In contrast, the number of General Educational Development (GED) credentials issued rose from 331,000 in 1977 to 501,000 in 2000. The dropout rate also declined over this period, from 14 percent of all 16- to 24-year-olds in 1977 to 11 percent in 2000. Much of the decrease occurred between 1977 and 1990. The number of degrees conferred during the 2000–01 school year by degree level has been projected: 562,000 associate degrees; 1,209,000 bachelor’s degrees; 428,000 master’s degrees; 81,900 first-professional degrees; and 46,700 doctor’s degrees.

The U.S. Census Bureau collects annual statistics on the educational attainment of the population. Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of the adult population 25 years of age and over who had completed a high school rose from 78 percent to 84 percent, and the proportion of adults with a bachelor’s degree increased from 21 percent to 26 percent. Over the same period, the proportion of young adults (25- to 29-year-olds) completing high school showed a small increase of about 2 percentage points to 88 percent in 2000, and the proportion completing bachelor’s degrees rose from 23 percent to 29 percent.


Expenditures for public and private education, from kindergarten through graduate school (excluding postsecondary schools not awarding associate or higher degrees), are estimated at $700 billion for 2000–01. The expenditures of elementary and secondary schools are expected to total $423 billion for 2000–01, while those of colleges and universities are expected to total $277 billion. The total expenditures for education are expected to amount to 7.1 percent of the gross domestic product in 2000–01, about the same percentage as in the recent past

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.

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