Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education that an individual has completed. This is distinct from the level of schooling that an individual is attending. See the School Enrollment Web site for information on current attendance.
Data on educational attainment are derived from a single question that asks, "What is the highest grade of school...has completed, or the highest degree...has received?" This question was first implemented in the 1990 Decennial Census and changed in the Current Population Survey in 1992. Prior to this, respondents were asked a two-part question that asked respondents to report the highest grade they had attended, and whether or not they had completed that grade. For more information on the implementation of this change and its effects on the data see the report Measuring Education in the Current Population Survey [PDF - 859k] (Kominski and Siegel, 1993).
The response categories for the educational attainment question vary slightly by survey, but generally include the following categories:
Depending on the survey, the educational attainment question may be asked only of adult household members. Even when data are collected from all household members regardless of age, the U.S. Census Bureau generally publishes data only for adults. Most publications focus on adults age 25 years and over, when education has been completed for most people.
For information on specific degrees and fields of study, see the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) Data on Educational Attainment Web site.