All data points, statistics, trends, and predictions presented in this article have been gathered by Research.com team led by Imed Bouchrika, PhD. You are free to quote, share, and distribute the information here for your own purposes without any limitations.
Through initiatives like the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the U.S. government ensures that all children in the U.S. receive high-quality education (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). These landmark acts support the long-standing view of the people that education should be a priority of the nation and the government.
Still, Americans have been vocal about the state of education in the country. A recent RealClear Opinion Research poll published online revealed that American voters want schools to teach students to be good citizens and think critically aside from reading and writing. Furthermore, a survey conducted by Gallup showed that, for the first time since 2004, Americans are satisfied with the quality of K-12 education.
In the U.S., education starts in primary schools, which include kindergarten through 6th grades. After finishing primary school, students go on to secondary schools, often divided into middle schools (7th and 8th grades) and high schools (9th to 12th grades). Upon finishing 12th grade, students have the option to continue studying in higher education institutions such as colleges and universities.
To help provide a more accurate picture of the U.S. educational system, this article compiles a list of American school statistics today. These numbers can supplement existing knowledge of American schools and help policymakers and educators make more informed decisions.
American Schools Statistics Table of Contents
- Total Number of American Schools
- Public Schools
- Private Schools
- Primary Schools in the U.S.
- Secondary Schools in the U.S.
- Colleges and Universities in the U.S.
- CTE Programs in the U.S.
- Online Schools in the U.S.
- Special Education in the U.S.
- American Schools and COVID-19
- The Future of American Schools
Total Number of American Schools
Schools in the U.S. include government-run public schools and state-certified private schools. K-12 schools make up the bulk of the U.S. educational system, outnumbering colleges and universities by a large margin. Similarly, most educational institutions in the U.S. are state-funded.
As the latest school statistics show, the number of public schools in the country has generally remained stable over the years. The latest numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveal that fewer public schools closed in 2017 than in 2016 (Snyder et al, 2019).
- As of the 2017-2018 school year, there are 137,432 educational institutions in the U.S. This number includes elementary and secondary schools, combined schools, and postsecondary or university-level institutions. Combined schools provide complete K-12 education to students.
- Of the total number of educational institutions, 87,498 are elementary schools, while 26,727 are secondary schools. Combined schools number 15,804.
- Of all schools in the U.S., 98,469 are public elementary and secondary schools.
- At 32,461 schools, private elementary and secondary schools comprise over a third of schools in the U.S.
- There are 6,502 postsecondary education institutions in the U.S., as of the 2017 to 2018 school year. Of postsecondary education institutions, 1,955 are public while 4,547 are private.
As U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander said, the role of American public education is “to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and what it means to be an American citizen.” Public schools ensure that education is universally available to children, even those with financial difficulties. These schools also provide education to parts of the country where few educational opportunities exist.
With the accessibility of public schools, it is not surprising that enrollment at these schools has remained high over the years. In 2019 alone, public schools educated 50.8 million children.
- For the 2019-2020 school year, public schools expect a population that includes 23.7 million White students, 13.9 million Hispanic students, and 7.7 million Black students. White students make up 46.6% of the enrollment at public schools.
- Asians (2.7 million students), American Indian/Alaska Native students (0.5 million students), and Pacific Islander students (0.2 million students) are the smallest minorities in public schools.
- The national average for the number of students per public school is approximately 526 students.
- Public schools see an average class size of 24 students.
- Most public schools have a student-to-teacher ratio of 16 to 1.
- Public elementary and secondary schools have a projected per-student expenditure of $13,440 for the 2019-2020 academic year. This amounts to a total expenditure of $680 billion.
In the U.S., school districts operate public elementary and high schools within their boundaries. School districts are typically governed by school boards that are, in turn, headed by superintendents who implement educational policies.
- The U.S. is currently home to 16,800 school districts.
- Texas (1,200), California (1,165), and Ohio (1,088) sit at the top of the list of states by number of school districts.
- Meanwhile, Hawaii (1), Nevada (21), and Maryland (24) have the lowest number of school districts in the U.S.
- The largest school district in the U.S. can be found in New York City, with an enrollment of 984,462 students.
Charter schools are independently run public schools that were born of a desire to improve the quality of American public schools. The first charter school in the U.S. was established in Minnesota in 1992.
- 7% of all public schools are charter schools (Snyder et al, 2019).
- As of the 2017-2018 school year, 7,193 charter schools can be found all over the U.S., in 44 states and the District of Columbia.
- 3.1 million elementary and high school students attend charter schools.
- California has the most charter schools, with 1,268 charter schools in the 2017-2018 school year.
- As of fall 2016, charter schools in the District of Columbia had the highest percentage of public school students enrolled in charter schools (44.8%).
- 56.5% of charter schools are located in cities.
- Charter schools have seen an increase in the enrollment of Hispanic students, from 19% in fall 2000 to 33% in fall 2016.
The first private schools in the United States appeared in New Netherland in 1660. By the 18th century, these schools had spread in most American cities and towns. Today, private schools tend to enjoy a positive reputation among parents. Seventy-five percent of parents give high ratings to private or parochial schools in their community.
Moreover, private schools have been reported to be less likely to report problems, such as physical conflicts, weapons possession, and racial tension (Shakeel & DeAngelis, 2018).
- The majority of private schools in the U.S.—21,548 schools, specifically-have a religious orientation.
- Roman Catholic (7,047 schools), Christian (4,545 schools), and Baptist (1,727 schools) are the most common religious orientations for U.S. private schools.
- In 2019, 68% of private schools used a regular elementary/secondary program while 9% of these schools utilized a Montessori program.
- Of the total number of private schools in the U.S., 10,531 schools can be found in cities and 12,152 can be found in suburban areas.
- 34% of private schools in the U.S. are located in the South.
- For the 2017-2018 academic year, U.S. private schools had an average size of 150.9 students.
- Compared to public schools, private schools have a smaller average class size of 18.8 students.
- Similarly, private schools have a lower student-to-teacher ratio of 12 students to one teacher.
Source: NCES Private School Universe Survery
Primary Schools in the U.S.
In the U.S., elementary schools provide primary education or the first six years of formal education for children ages 6 to 11. For many school districts, elementary schools are combined with middle schools, which provide education from 6th to 8th grades.
The curriculum at these schools is typically determined by school districts, with teachers playing a key role in the quality of education. There were 1.6 million kindergarten and elementary school teachers in the U.S. in 2018 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).
- In 2019, 35.5 million children were enrolled in elementary school (K to 8th grade).
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, public elementary schools educated 29.67 million pupils in 2018.
- Meanwhile, for the same year, private elementary schools serviced 2.82 million pupils.
- In the same year, 3.5 million kids were enrolled in public kindergarten schools, while 379,000 children were enrolled in private kindergarten.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for kindergarten and elementary school teachers in 2019 is $59,420 per year. New York is the top-paying state for elementary school teachers, who can earn an annual mean wage of $82,830 in the state.
Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Costs of Elementary Education
- Although public elementary schools do not charge tuition fees, extra fees for activities and field trips may range from $10 to $3,500.
- The average tuition cost for private elementary schools amounts to $9,946 per year.
- Private elementary schools in the District of Columbia may charge up to $20,047 a year.
- On the other hand, the state with the lowest average cost of private elementary education—$2,895—is Nebraska.
Secondary Schools in the U.S.
In the U.S., secondary schools provide the last years of statutory formal education. In most cases, this period is split into middle school (grades 6 through 8) and high school (grades 9 through 12). According to the NCES, 4.1 million students will attend 9th grade and subsequently enter high school for the 2019-2020 school year.
Aside from a core curriculum, many secondary schools offer electives, such as visual arts, vocational education, and business education. Most high schools also have “honors” classes for gifted students.
- In 2019, 15.3 million students enrolled in high school (9th to 12th grade).
- Of the figures above, 3.3 million high school seniors are enrolled in public schools, while the remaining 352,020 are in private schools.
- 3.7 million students will be graduating from high school during the same school year.
- 66.2% or 2.1 million high school graduates during the school year 2018–2019 enrolled in colleges and universities.
- According to the latest data from the NCES, the national graduation rate for public high school students is at 85%.
- For the 2016 to 2017 school year, the graduation rate for private high schools is at 97.3%.
Costs of Secondary Education
- Certain school districts charged up to $450 a year for after-school programs and $49 for SATs (Hopkins, 2012).
- Connecticut has the highest average tuition cost for private high schools, with an annual average of $32,608.
- Meanwhile, with an average annual tuition cost of $5,189, West Virginia has the most affordable private secondary schools in the U.S.
Colleges and Universities in the U.S.
American colleges and universities provide optional formal learning for students past high school. Despite higher education’s optional nature, though, 61% of Americans have achieved a certain level of college education. There are many types of colleges and universities in the U.S.
Community colleges, for instance, offer two-year programs to students and typically charge lower tuition fees. Meanwhile, universities provide graduate programs in multiple disciplines.
- The top 3 spots on the QS World University Rankings belong to U.S. universities, namely the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1st), Stanford University (2nd), and Harvard University (3rd). MIT has held the top spot in the rankings since 2012.
- In fall 2019, 19.9 million students started college. 13.9 million students enrolled in 4-year institutions, while 6.0 million students enrolled in 2-year institutions.
- As of 2018, 40.9% of 18 to 24-year-old adults in the U.S. are college students.
- College enrollment in fall 2019 is expected to dip 5% lower than the peak of college enrollment of 21 million in 2010.
- Colleges and universities are expected to award 1,975,000 bachelor’s degrees during the 2019-2020 academic year.
- In 2016, 69.1% of recent high school completers enrolled in college (NCES, 2017).
Costs of College Education in the U.S.
Going to college in the U.S. is often expensive. Prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public colleges and universities rose by 31% from 2007 to 2017 (Snyder et al., 2018). Combined with climbing costs for room and board, rising tuition fees compound the issue of student loan debt and the average time to repay student loans.
- Average annual tuition fees at private universities amount to $35,380 for the 2018-2019 academic year.
- Taking into consideration the costs of room and board, the total becomes $48,510 annually.
- For public colleges and universities, the annual costs of tuition amount to $10,230 per year.
- With room and board, in-state college students can expect total costs to rise to $21,370.
- The cost climbs $10,000 higher for out-of-state college students, for a total of $37,340.
- As of 2020, the total student debt in the U.S. amounts to $1.68 trillion.
Source: The U.S. Federal Reserve
CTE Programs in the U.S.
In a number of jurisdictions in the U.S., standard high schools are being replaced by alternative career and technical education (CTE) programs. These programs provide a hands-on learning experience and ease students’ transition into the workforce. Also sometimes called trade school, this alternative education program can address the issue of waning student engagement. Unlike vocational programs, CTE programs have an academic focus and are usually stackable.
- Spread over 41 U.S. states, 1,200 career and technology centers provide students with vocational education.
- Students opting for trade school can choose from 16 career tracks, including health science, hospitality, STEM, and construction.
- 77% of high school students participate in CTE programs.
- The most popular career clusters for high school CTEs are Arts, Audio-Visual Technology and Communication (12%), Business Management and Administration (11%), and Health Science (11%).
- Though the national average stands at 35%, the District of Columbia has the highest percentage of high school CTE concentrations in STEM at 70%.
- In 2017, 98% of public school districts allowed high school students to participate in CTE programs.
- 73% of public school districts provide CTE courses that earn dual credit (high school and postsecondary education).
- CTE programs are most commonly found in traditional high schools (83%), followed by part-time CTE centers (43%).
Source: U.S. Department of Education
Online Schools in the U.S.
Online schools or virtual schools are starting to gain traction in the U.S., with supporters claiming that these schools provide students with more choices and allow for the use of a more personalized curriculum. Lower costs for facilities and staff also make the case for these schools, especially with policymakers and for-profit providers.
For the 2017-2018 school year, 501 full-time online schools enrolled 297,712 students. Blended schools have also become common; these schools combine traditional face-to-face teaching with virtual classrooms and distance learning. For the same school year, 300 blended schools enrolled 132,960 students.
- 48.5% of virtual schools and 44.6% of blended schools were rated to have acceptable performance.
- With a graduation rate of 61.5% and 50.1%, respectively, blended schools and virtual schools fell short of the national graduation rate.
- Online schools in Pennsylvania saw the highest enrollment rate at 35,833 students for the 2017-2018 school year. In the District of Columbia, on the other hand, only 180 students enrolled in online schools in the same period.
- 46.5% of all virtual schools were charter schools.
- Virtual schools reported having up to 44 students per teacher, nearly thrice the average student-teacher ratio in public schools. Blended schools can have up to 34 students per teacher.
Postsecondary Online Learning
- According to the latest data from the NCES, there were 103 primarily online degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S. in 2017.
- In fall 2017, 823,068 students were enrolled in these institutions.
- For the same period, online learning schools conferred 91,230 bachelor’s degrees and 62,305 master’s degrees.
- 6.65 million students enrolled in distance education courses in fall 2017.
- Public institutions have the highest share of distance education students, at 32%.
- 48% of 4-year schools allocated more money towards online learning programs in 2019.
- 71% of higher education institutions in the U.S offered new online learning programs in response to a demand from students interested in the subject area or degree level.
Special Education in the U.S.
With the U.S. Congress passing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975, special education programs were made mandatory in the U.S. Renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, the legislation ensures that students with disabilities receive an education that’s customized to their needs.
According to the act, its purpose is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”
Through IDEA, public preschools, elementary schools, and secondary schools are required to develop and implement an Individualized Education Program for students with disabilities. School districts are required to provide assistance and support to special needs individuals from birth until the age of 21.
- Special education programs in the U.S. serve children suffering from disabilities in 13 categories.
- For the 2017-2018 academic year, 13.2% of students were special needs individuals.
- In fall 2017, schools for students with disabilities served only 3% of students under IDEA, while regular schools facilitated the education of 95% of these students. The remaining students were placed in regular private schools or were homebound or in hospitals.
- In the 2018-2019 school year, 7.1 million disabled individuals received special education during the same period. 33% of these students (2.4 million students) had a specific learning disability.
Costs, Demographics, and Methods
When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed in the ’70s, the U.S. Congress agreed to provide 40% of the average per-pupil expenditure to offset the costs of educating students with disabilities. However, special education programs in U.S. schools continue to be underfunded (National Council on Disability, 2018).
The statistics below reveal the state of special education in the U.S. as well as the demographics of students with disabilities:
- There is an additional cost of $9,639 for every student with special needs.
- In recent years, federal funding was less than 15% of the average expenditure per special needs student.
- 56% of principals and school district administrators think that special education programs boosted per-pupil expenses.
- In terms of ethnicity, white students have benefited most from IDEA, with 3,409,308 students served in 2018. Only 20,807 Pacific Islander students with disabilities received support from the act.
- 63% of special needs students attended regular school 80% of the time.
- In regular classes, students with special needs are 23 times more likely to get one-on-one instruction from teachers.
- In California, there were 4,854 disputes for children’s special education placement filed from 2017 to 2018.
American Schools and COVID-19
For many U.S. students, education continues despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools all over the country, including colleges and universities, have shifted to online classes to curtail the spread of the virus. However, the transition has not been easy for many students, especially those coming from low-income families with no access to computers or broadband internet.
Similar problems can be found at the college level, as many students raised concerns over not being able to afford college during the crisis. In various states, students have filed class-action lawsuits against their universities, demanding refunds for educational services they no longer receive. According to data compiled from various sources published in 2020, statistics revealing how the coronavirus pandemic has affected American schools are outlined as follows
- At least 124,000 U.S. public and private schools and 50.8 million students have been affected by school closures due to the pandemic (Education Week, 2020).
- 86% of teens whose regular classes have been cancelled report that they’re still being assigned schoolwork while at home (Common Sense Media, 2020).
- The same survey by Common Sense Media indicated that 41% of teenagers haven’t attended a single virtual class since regular classes were cancelled and that only 31% of public school students connected with their teachers at least once a day.
- According to a survey by consulting firm Art & Science Group (2020), 1 out of 6 students who had planned to go to a four-year institution will no longer push through with these plans.
- The same survey reported that 12% of students who have already made a deposit report that they no longer plan to be a full-time college student at a four-year institution.
- The survey also revealed that 59% of students have no interest in enrolling in an online degree or program.
- Meanwhile, a survey by College Finance (2020) indicated that 60% of college students report satisfaction with their experience in the remote classroom.
- According to the same College Finance survey, 69% of students feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their quality of education.
Source: Common Sense Media
The Future of American Schools
Technology continues to shape the future of American schools. With the effective implementation of artificial intelligence, teachers can save time on routine tasks, such as grading and scheduling. Moreover, AI can integrate with smart technology to provide students more personalized instruction.
A number of schools in the U.S. are ahead of the curve, already using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify areas where students struggle to meet benchmarks. For instance, educators in Slackwood Elementary School in New Jersey use an AI-powered teaching assistant called Happy Numbers for mathematics topics that first-grade students find difficult (Zimmerman, 2018). Students who received personalized attendance from Happy Numbers achieved higher test scores in math. On the college level, essay-grading software like Gradescope allowed professors to assess handwritten homework and exams with improved speed, consistency, and flexibility more quickly and fairly (Singh et al., 2017).
The US educational system may also see the continued adoption of virtual learning. This is especially true for higher education, where lectures don’t require personalization or a high amount of interactions between instructors and students. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be a promising option, but it has been found that MOOCs continue to have a low completion rate, from nearly 6% in 2015 to only 3% in 2018 (Reich & Ruipérez-Valiente, 2019). The same study predicts that, instead of transforming higher education, MOOCs will soon bolster the efforts of universities to provide online masters degrees for professionals.
For K-12 education, on the other hand, more American school districts are finding new ways to measure students’ proficiency levels. Under the innovative assessment initiative of the Every Student Succeeds Act, high schools in the state of Washington now allow students to choose from seven pathways to earning a diploma.
Similarly, school districts all over the country are choosing to limit standardized testing. These changes may signal the beginning of a shift towards “whole child education,” where schools focus on the development of children as individuals and future citizens. With this new focus, schools emphasize social-emotional learning along with academic learning.
How many schools, colleges, and universities are there in the U.S. in 2019?
As of 2018, the U.S. is home to 137,432 schools. This number includes elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities.
How many college students are there in the U.S. in total?
19.9 million students are expected to start college in the fall 2019 semester. 13.9 million students will enroll in 4-year institutions, while the remaining will choose 2-year schools.
What percentage of American students go to public school?
90% or 50.8 million American students go to public school. This figure includes students attending elementary and secondary school.
What percentage of the U.S. college population is white?
Of the 19.9 million students to attend college in the fall 2019 semester, 10.5 million students or 53% are white. Hispanic students (18%) make up the 2nd biggest sector of the U.S. college population.
What percentage of people graduate from college in the U.S.?
According to the Department of Education, 33.3% of students at public colleges and universities graduate after four years. The six-year graduation rate is higher at 57.6%. In private colleges and universities, students have a four-year graduation rate of 52.8% and a six-year graduation rate of 65.4%.
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