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U.S. School Enrollment Exceeds Baby-Boomer Days

75 million people now in school


Dateline: June 2005

The 49.5 million U.S. elementary and high school students enrolled in 2003 has surpassed the previous all-time high of 48.7 million set in 1970 when the baby-boomers were in school, according to a report just released by the Census Bureau.

Baby boomers are generally considered to be persons born during America's post-WWII population growth spurt between 1946 and 1964.

Elementary and high school enrollment actually decreased during the 1970s and early 1980s. Census Bureau analysts project that the current enrollment increase of the baby-boomers' children will decline slightly between 2005 and 2010, due to a small decline in annual births which occurred from 1990 to 1997.

In 2003, 75 million people — more than one-fourth of the U.S. population age 3 and older — were in school throughout the country, according to School Enrollment — Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2003. Nine million children, age 3 and older, were enrolled in nursery school and kindergarten, 33 million in elementary school and 17 million in high school. There were nearly 17 million college students.

In addition to an increase in births during the late 1980s, the census reports that immigration also contributed to the growth of the student population in elementary and high schools. In 2003, more than 1-in-5 students had at least one foreign-born parent.

This data comes on the heals of another Census Bureau report showing that a college degree nearly doubles a person's potential annual earnings. Workers 18 and over sporting bachelors degrees earn an average of $51,206 a year, according to the report, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915.

Other highlights of the school attendance report include:

  • Nursery school enrollment has increased dramatically, from about one-half million in 1964 to about 5 million in 2003, an increase from about 6 percent to about 60 percent of children ages 3 and 4.

  • The vast majority of 5-year-olds (92 percent) were enrolled in school in 2003, likely reflecting the availability of public kindergarten in most states. During the past three decades, the share of children this age attending all-day kindergarten increased, from 1-in-5 in 1973 to more than 3-in-5 in 2003.

  • Elementary and high school students today are more diverse than the baby-boom generation of students. In 1970, the student population was 79 percent non-Hispanic white, 14 percent black, 1 percent Asian and Pacific islander and other races and 6 percent Hispanic. In 2003, 60 percent were non-Hispanic white, 16 percent black, 4 percent Asian and 18 percent Hispanic.

  • The high school dropout rate of 3.8 percent in 2003 was not significantly different from the 3.3 percent rate in 2002, but was lower than the 4.7 percent rate in 2001.

  • In fall 2003, 46 percent of high school graduates ages 18 to 24 years old were enrolled in college. College enrollment, totaling 16.6 million students, was up from 14.4 million a decade earlier.

  • In 2003, 1-in-3 of the nation’s 13 million undergraduate college students was attending a two-year educational institution.

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