Educational attainment data are needed for use in assessing the socioeconomic condition of the U.S. population. Government agencies also require these data for funding allocations and program planning and implementation. These data are needed to determine the extent of illiteracy rates of citizens in language minorities in order to meet statutory requirements under the Voting Rights Act. Based on data about educational attainment, school districts are allocated funds to provide classes in basic skills to adults who have not completed high school.
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 regular high school diploma and did not attend college were instructed to report "Regular high school diploma." Respondents who received the equivalent of a high school diploma (for example, passed the test of General Educational Development (G.E.D.)), and did not attend college, were instructed to report "GED or alternative credential." "Some college" is in two categories: "Some college credit, but less than 1 year of college credit" and "1 or more years of college credit, 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 for mailout/mailback respondents only 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 associate's, bachelor's, master's, 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.
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.
The 1999-2007 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 8 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."
Beginning in 2008, the American Community Survey attainment question was changed to the following categories for levels up to "Grade 12, no diploma": "Nursery school," "Kindergarten," "Grade 1 through grade 11," and "12th grade, no diploma." The survey question allowed a write-in for the highest grade completed for grades 1-11. In addition, the category that was previously "High school graduate (including GED)" was broken into two categories: "Regular high school diploma" and "GED or alternative credential." The term "credit" for the two some college categories was emphasized. The phrase "beyond a bachelor's degree" was added to the professional degree category.
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.
The Census Bureau tested the changes introduced to the 2008 version of the educational attainment question in the 2006 ACS Content Test. The results of this testing show that the changes may introduce an inconsistency in the data produced for this question as observed from the years 2007 to 2008, see "2006 ACS Content Test Evaluation Report Covering Educational Attainment" on the ACS website (www.census.gov/acs
New questions were added to the 2008 ACS CATI/CAPI instrument. Respondents who received a high school diploma, GED or equivalent were also asked if they had completed any college credit. Therefore, data users may notice a decrease in the number of high school graduates relative to previous years because those people are now being captured in the "Some college credit, but less than 1 year of college credit" or "1 or more years of college credit, no degree" categories. For more information, see the report titled Report P.2.b: "Evaluation Report Covering Educational Attainment" on the ACS website (www.census.gov/acs
Data about educational attainment are also collected from the decennial Census and from the Current Population Survey (CPS). ACS data is generally comparable to data from the Census. For more information about the comparability of ACS and CPS data, please see the link for the Fact Sheet and the Comparison Report from the CPS Educational Attainment page.