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About Educational Attainment

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 (Kominski and Siegel, 1993).

The ACS asks, “What is the highest degree or level of school this person has completed?” The response categories include:

  • No schooling completed
  • Nursery school
  • Grades 1 through 11
  • 12th grade—no diploma
  • Regular high school diploma
  • GED or alternative credential
  • Some college credit, but less than 1 year of college
  • 1 or more years of college credit, no degree
  • Associates degree (for example: AA, AS)
  • Bachelor’s degree (for example: BA. BS)
  • Master’s degree (for example: MA, MS, MEng, MEd, MSW, MBA)
  • Professional degree beyond bachelor’s degree (for example: MD, DDS, DVM, LLB, JD)
  • Doctorate degree (for example, PhD, EdD)

In addition to formal degrees, people often earn educational certifications, certificates and licenses.  These are recorded with a separate question on the Current Population Survey.

Related to educational attainment is the field in which a person received his or her degree.  A question on field of bachelor’s degree is included in the American Community Survey.

Contact Us

For assistance, please contact the Census Call Center at 1-800-923-8282 (toll free) or visit ask.census.gov for further information.

Page Last Revised - November 20, 2021
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