Skip Header
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Educational Attainment

What is the difference between educational attainment and school enrollment?

Educational attainment refers to the level of schooling completed while school enrollment refers to the level of schooling currently attending.

The school enrollment section also includes annual information on school dropouts.

Where can I get information on dropouts?

The number of dropouts and dropout rates are calculated from data collected on school enrollment.

Does the Census Bureau keep track of college majors and fields of study?

Bachelor’s field of Degree is asked of all respondents on the ACS who have a bachelor’s degree of higher.

The ACS asks, “This question focuses on this person’s BACHELOR’S DEGREE. Please print below the specific major (s) of any BACHELOR’S DEGREES this person has received. (For example: chemical engineering, elementary teacher education, organization psychology). ACS Data on field of degree is available from 2009 forward. Historically data on field of degree was collected in the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

How are earnings and income affected by education? Does the Census Bureau have data on lifetime earnings by education?

Earnings (from work) and income (from all sources) vary considerably by education level.

Annual data on earnings by education are available in historical table A-3 at CPS Historical Time Series Tables on Educational Attainment. Additional tables are included under the “Income” topic,  including CPS Historical Income Tables and CPS Detailed Income Tables.

A report on lifetime earnings by educational attainment was released in 2012, and can be accessed under “Publications” in the Educational Attainment topic area. Related visualizations were released in 2012 and 2013.

ACS data on earnings by education are available through the American FactFinder Web site.

Does the Census Bureau project future levels of educational attainment?

The Census Bureau has produced projections in the past; most recently in 2000.  Another source of educational projections is the National Center for Education Statistics.

How does the Census Bureau ask about educational attainment?

The Census Bureau question on educational attainment asks respondents about the highest grade of school completed or the highest degree received. However, there are differences across surveys in response categories and additional education questions.

The current form of the educational attainment question was first implemented in the 1990 Census, and was included in the 1992 Current Population Survey and the 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation. Prior to these years, the Census Bureau asked a two-part question about the highest year of schooling or grade attended by a person, and whether or not that grade was completed.

Historical tables and reports include years of schooling completed, and calculate statistics on median years. Recent publications and tabulations focus on completion of specific degrees as the marker of educational attainment.

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).

How do you categorize people with a GED (General Education Development) or vocational degree?

The census bureau typically categorizes GED holders as "High School Graduate or Equivalent". In the American Community Survey, GED status is recorded separately, and at least one table (B15003) provides tabulations.

In most Census Bureau surveys, vocational degrees are not included as a category of educational attainment because they are not part of the regular collegiate system . Vocational degree holders are therefore categorized by highest level of regular schooling completed. However, the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) includes specific information about GED and vocational degree holders (see the Educational Attainment Data section for SIPP related data.). Data on other types of certificates and licenses is collected in the Current Population Survey as well as in the SIPP.

What is the difference between an occupational and an academic associate's degree?

In the Current Population Survey, respondents are asked to categorize their associate’s degree as either occupational or academic. 

If the highest degree attained was an associate's degree in a field that prepares a person for a specific occupation, then educational attainment is classified as "Associate's degree - occupational." Such course work may, but need not, be creditable towards a bachelor's degree.

If the highest degree attained was an associate’s degree primarily in the arts and sciences and is transferable to a bachelor’s degree, then educational attainment is classified as "Associate's degree - academic."

What are professional and advanced degrees?

Professional degrees are degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree, including law (e.g. JD, LLB), medical (e.g. MD), veterinary (e.g. DVM) and dental degrees (e.g. DDS).

The advanced degrees category includes all degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree (including master’s degrees, professional degrees, and doctorate degrees).


Back to Header