Data on educational attainment were derived from answers to Question 11, which was asked of all respondents. Educational attainment data are tabulated for people 18 years old and over. Respondents are classified according to the highest degree or the highest level of school completed. The question included instructions for persons currently enrolled in school to report the level of the previous grade attended or the highest degree received.
The educational attainment question included a response category that allowed people to report completing the 12th grade without receiving a high school diploma. Respondents who received a high school diploma or the equivalent (for example, passed the test of General Educational Development (G.E.D.)), and did not attend college, were instructed to report "high school graduate." "Some college" is in two categories: "Some college credit, but less than 1 year" and "1 or more years of college, no degree." The category "Associate's degree" included people whose highest degree is an associate's degree, which generally requires 2 years of college level work and is either in an occupational program that prepares them for a specific occupation, or an academic program primarily in the arts and sciences. The course work may or may not be transferable to a bachelor's degree. Master's degrees include the traditional MA and MS degrees and field-specific degrees, such as MSW, MEd, MBA, MLS, and MEng. Instructions included in the respondent instruction guide provided the following examples of professional school degrees: Medicine, dentistry, chiropractic, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, podiatry, veterinary medicine, law, and theology. The order in which degrees were listed suggested that doctorate degrees were "higher" than professional school degrees, which were "higher" than master's degrees. If more than one box was filled, the response was edited to the highest level or degree reported.
The instructions further specified that schooling completed in foreign or ungraded school systems should be reported as the equivalent level of schooling in the regular American system. The instructions specified that certificates or diplomas for training in specific trades or from vocational, technical or business schools were not to be reported. Honorary degrees awarded for a respondent's accomplishments were not to be reported.
High School Graduate or Higher
This category includes people whose highest degree was a high school diploma or its equivalent, people who attended college but did not receive a degree, and people who received an associates, bachelors, masters, or professional or doctorate degree. People who reported completing the 12th grade but not receiving a diploma are not included.
Not Enrolled, Not High School Graduate
This category includes people of compulsory school attendance age or above who were not enrolled in school and were not high school graduates. These people may be referred to as "high school dropouts." There is no restriction on when they "dropped out" of school; therefore, they may have dropped out before high school and never attended high school.
Beginning in 2006, the population in group quarters (GQ) is included in the ACS. Some types of GQ populations may have educational attainment distributions that are different from the household population. The inclusion of the GQ population could therefore have a noticeable impact on the educational attainment distribution. This is particularly true for areas with a substantial GQ population.
Since 1999, the American Community Survey question does not have the response category for "Vocational, technical, or business school degree" that the 1996-1998 American Community Surveys question had. Starting in 1999, the American Community Survey question had two categories for some college: "Some college credit, but less than 1 year" and "1 or more years of college, no degree." The 1996-1998 American Community Survey question had one category: "Some college but no degree."
In the 1996-1998 American Community Survey, the educational attainment question was used to estimate level of enrollment. Since 1999, a question regarding grade of enrollment was included.
Since 1999, the American Community Survey attainment question grouped grade categories below high school into the following three categories: "Nursery school to 4th grade," "5th grade or 6th grade," and "7th grade or 8th grade." The 1996-1998 American Community Survey question allowed a write-in for highest grade completed for grades 1-11 in addition to "Nursery or preschool" and "Kindergarten."