Data on educational attainment were derived from answers to questionnaire item 12, which was asked of a sample of persons. Data are tabulated as attainment for persons 15 years old and over. Persons are classified according to the highest level of school completed or the highest degree received. The question included instructions to report the level of the previous grade attended or the highest degree received for persons currently enrolled in school. The question included response categories which allowed persons to report completing the 12th grade without receiving a high school diploma, and which instructed respondents to report as "high school graduate(s)"--persons who received either a high school diploma or the equivalent, for example, passed the Test of General Educational Development (G.E.D.), and did not attend college. (On the Military Census Report questionnaire, the lowest response category was "Less than 9th grade.")
Instructions included in the 1990 respondent instruction guide, which was mailed with the census questionnaire, 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; that vocational certificates or diplomas from vocational, trade, or business schools or colleges were not to be reported unless they were college level degrees; and that honorary degrees were not to be reported. The instructions gave "medicine, dentistry, chiropractic, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, podiatry, veterinary medicine, law, and theology" as examples of professional school degrees, and specifically excluded "barber school, cosmetology, or other training for a specific trade" from the professional school category. The order in which they were listed suggested that doctorate degrees were "higher" than professional school degrees, which were "higher" than master's degrees.
Persons who did not report educational attainment were assigned the attainment of a person of the same age, race or Spanish origin, and sex who resided in the same or a nearby area. Persons who filled more than one circle were edited to the highest level or degree reported.
High School Graduate or Higher
Includes persons whose highest degree was a high school diploma or its equivalent, persons who attended college or professional school, and persons who received a college, university, or professional degree. Persons who reported completing the 12th grade but not receiving a diploma are not included.
Not Enrolled, Not High School Graduate
Includes persons of compulsory school attendance age or above who were not enrolled in school and were not high school graduates; these persons may be taken to be "high school dropouts." There is no restriction on when they "dropped out" of school, and they may have never attended high school.
In prior censuses, "Median school years completed" was used as a summary measure of educational attainment. In 1990, the median can only be calculated for groups of which less than half the members have attended college. "Percent high school graduate or higher" and "Percent bachelor's degree or higher" are summary measures which can be calculated from the present data and offer quite readily interpretable measures of differences between population subgroups. To make comparisons over time, "Percent high school graduate or higher" can be calculated and "Percent bachelor's degree or higher" can be approximated with data from previous censuses.
From 1840 to 1930, the census measured educational attainment by means of a basic literacy question. In 1940, a single question was asked on highest grade of school completed. In the censuses of 1950 through 1980, a two-part question asking highest grade of school attended and whether that grade was finished was used to construct highest grade or year of school completed. For persons who have not attended college, the response categories in the 1990 educational attainment question should produce data which are comparable to data on highest grade completed from earlier censuses.
The response categories for persons who have attended college were modified from earlier censuses because there was some ambiguity in interpreting responses in terms of the number of years of college completed. For instance, it was not clear whether "completed the fourth year of college," "completed the senior year of college," and "college graduate" were synonymous. Research conducted shortly before the census suggests that these terms were more distinct in 1990 than in earlier decades, and this change may have threatened the ability to estimate the number of "college graduates" from the number of persons reported as having completed the fourth or a higher year of college. It was even more difficult to make inferences about post-baccalaureate degrees and "Associate" degrees from highest year of college completed. Thus, comparisons of post-secondary educational attainment in this and earlier censuses should be made with great caution.
In the 1960 and subsequent censuses, persons for whom educational attainment was not reported were assigned the same attainment level as a similar person whose residence was in the same or a nearby area. In the 1940 and 1950 censuses, persons for whom educational attainment was not reported were not allocated.