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Institute of Education Sciences

A Milestone for Education Statistics: The 50th edition of the Digest of Education Statistics

By Tom Snyder

For more than five decades, the Digest of Education Statistics has been addressing the data needs of a wide array of people, from policymakers who require a reliable, unbiased foundation for decision-making to researchers who seek to unravel the complex facts underlying key issues of the day; from reporters who need in-depth information for education-related news stories to organizational leaders who rely on annually updated data to steer their course. The Digest also serves the needs of everyday citizens who may be curious about such things as the number of high school graduates in the United States, the latest trends in postsecondary costs and financial assistance, or the earnings of employees with various types of degrees.

Released on April 28, Digest of Education Statistics 2014 is the 50th in a series of reports that has been issued annually since 1962, except for combined editions for the years 1977-78, 1983-84, and 1985-86. The Digest provides a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of American education from prekindergarten through graduate school. Subject matter includes the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to data on educational attainment, finances, federal funds for education, libraries, and international education.

The Digest continues a long tradition of recurring statistical reports issued by NCES and its predecessor agencies. From 1869-70 to 1916-17, statistical data were included in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Education. A similar report, the Biennial Survey of Education in the United States, was issued every other year from 1917-18 to 1957-58.

By the summer of 1962, the need for an annual statistical summary report had become obvious to agency staff, and the first edition of the Digest was published. Dr. Vance Grant, who played a leading role in developing the first edition of the Digest, continued to direct the project until the 1985-86 edition. During these years, the Digest responded to the growing data needs of policymakers by adding new information on children with disabilities, preprimary education, career and technical education, educational attainment, and salary data. In 1987, I took over the responsibility of publishing the Digest, and we have continued to make changes that meet the needs of the policy community. This includes expanding the quantity of state-level tables, constructing tables to show institution-level data for large school districts and colleges, and adding more racial/ethnic data.

Beginning with the 1995 edition, a strong web presence was developed for the Digest, reflecting increased needs for digital access to education data. The full tabular content of the report is presented on the NCES website in HTML format, and a spreadsheet version of each statistical table is also available for users to download. The 2013 edition introduced a revamped web structure and table-numbering system that makes it easier for users to quickly find the latest version of a specific table, as well as to explore all the tables that are currently available on a specific topic. Rather than numbering the entire set of tables sequentially, the latest editions of the Digest use a subject-matter numbering sequence that will remain the same year after year. The most current versions of Digest tables are posted to the website on a rolling basis, before the entire edition of the report has been completed.

Over the years, the Digest has evolved as an education data resource that continues to support the information needs of our modern society. The newly released 2014 edition provides convenient online access to 594 tables covering the full range of education topics.