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National Center for Education Statistics

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.

Examining the workforce skills of U.S. unemployed, young, and older adults: Updated data from the PIAAC

By Stephen Provasnik and Holly Xie

Educational attainment is one of the most common measures of workforce preparation and is certainly an important indicator of whether someone is job-ready. But this one metric does not fully capture the variety of skills that can be important to potential employers. One way that NCES measures the basic workplace skills and abilities of U.S. adults is through the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).[1] 

PIAAC includes a number of assessments designed to evaluate real-world skills in three important areas:

  • Literacy: The literacy assessment measures the extent to which respondents can understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written text in different contexts, such as home, work, and community;
  • Numeracy: The numeracy assessment evaluates respondents’ ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information that is deemed to be important in the workplace; and
  • Problem solving in technology-rich environments: This skill area assesses respondents’ use of digital technology, communication tools, and networks to gather and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.

The newly released Skills of U.S. Unemployed, Young, and Older Adults in Sharper Focus: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012/2014 describes the workforce skill levels of unemployed adults (age 16-65), young adults (age 16-34), and older adults (age 66-74). The report, along with additional data on the NCES website, includes results from the assessments described above, as well as information about respondents’ educational background, work history, the skills they use on the job and at home, their civic engagement, and their health and well-being.

The PIAAC results show a connection between skills and employment. For instance, more than 75 percent of unemployed adults (age 16-65) had attained a high school credential or less. Roughly one-third of these adults (with a high school credential or less) scored at the lowest levels in literacy and about half scored at the lowest levels in numeracy. Overall, adults who were unemployed or out of the labor force performed worse than their employed peers in all areas of the PIAAC.


Percentage of adults age 16 to 65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC numeracy scale, by employment status: 2012 and 20141

1United States data are the U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014 data. PIAAC international average is calculated from the U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014 data and international data from 2012 for all other countries shown in this report. Country- and region-specific results are available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/results/makeselections.aspx.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Skills of U.S. Unemployed, Young, and Older Adults in Sharper Focus: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012/2014: First Look


Among young adults age 16-34, the higher the level of education completed, the larger the percentages of young adults at the highest proficiency levels in all three skill areas, and the smaller the percentages at the lowest levels. This pattern was not seen among older U.S. adults (age 66-74). Among older U.S. adults, there was no measurable difference in the percentage performing at the highest levels in literacy or numeracy between those who had a bachelor’s degree and those who had a graduate or professional degree.


Percentage of adults age 66 to 74 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by highest level of educational attainment: 2014

# Rounds to zero.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Sample size insufficient to permit a reliable estimate.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Skills of U.S. Unemployed, Young, and Older Adults in Sharper Focus: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012/2014: First Look.


Much more data can be read in the full report. Additional PIAAC data will be released later this year, including information about adults who were incarcerated.

For more information, check out this video:

 


[1] The PIAAC survey is coordinated internationally by the OECD. NCES implements PIAAC in the United States. PIAAC is a household survey administered by trained data collectors to a nationally-representative sample of adults, ages 16 through 65, in each country, in the official language(s), and in most cases, in respondents’ homes on a laptop computer. PIAAC was first conducted in 2011-2012 and results were released in October 2013 with data from 23 countries, including the United States.

The findings reported here are based on data from the first round of PIAAC and a second round conducted in 2013-2014 in the United States to collect additional data on key subgroups of the adult population. To learn more about the U.S. administration and reporting of PIAAC, as well as related data tools, see https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.

 

Beginning postsecondary students: Persistence and attainment after 3 years

By David A. Richards

The number of students enrolling in postsecondary education has increased over the past several decades. While this increase in enrollment shows that more students are pursuing postsecondary credentials and degrees, it is also important to consider the number of students that go on to complete their postsecondary education. Data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) can help researchers, policy-makers, educators, and the public answer questions about whether students are persisting through their educations and earning credentials. BPS data can also help answer questions about how these outcomes may differ by institutional and student-level characteristics.

The recently released Persistence and Attainment of 2011-12 First-Time Postsecondary Students After 3 Years contains findings from data collected from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) longitudinal study. This report answers questions such as, what percentage of first-time students who began postsecondary education in 2012 were still enrolled three years later? How many had earned a credential, and how did rates differ across different types of postsecondary institutions and degree programs?

This first look report on BPS:12/14 data shows that, among 2011–12 first-time postsecondary students, 7 percent had completed a certificate, 7 percent had completed an associate’s degree, and 1 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree at any institution within 3 years. Of the students who had not yet earned a credential, 39 percent were enrolled at a 4-year institution, 16 percent were enrolled at a less-than-4-year institution, and 30 percent were not enrolled at any institution by the spring of 2014.

At the baccalaureate level, among students who first enrolled in 4-year institutions and were seeking bachelor’s degrees, 1 percent had completed a certificate, 1 percent had completed an associate’s degree, and 3 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree at any institution within 3 years. Another 73 percent of the students seeking a bachelor’s degree were enrolled at a 4-year institution, 6 percent were enrolled at a less-than-4-year institution, and 16 percent were no longer enrolled at any institution.


Percentage distribution of first-time public 2-year college students 3 years after entry, by student age: 2012–14

! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable because the standard error represents more than 30 percent but less than 51 percent of the estimate.
NOTE: Includes first-time postsecondary students starting at a Title IV eligible postsecondary institution in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2011-12.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12/14).


BPS also contains data on attainment based on student characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and age. These data can be examined by the type of program in which students are enrolled and the first institution in which they enrolled. For example, among first-time postsecondary students beginning at a 2-year public college, 4 percent of those students who were age 18 or younger when they enrolled in 2011 had completed a certificate by the spring of 2014, 14 percent had completed an associate’s degree, 45 percent were still enrolled in a postsecondary institution, and 37 percent were no longer enrolled in postsecondary education. For students that were age 30 or older when they enrolled, 8 percent had completed a certificate by the spring of 2014, 8 percent had completed an associate’s degree, 29 percent were still enrolled, and 56 percent were no longer enrolled. Differences by other student characteristics, such as sex, race/ethnicity, dependency status, and parental educational attainment are available in the report.

BPS surveys nationally representative cohorts of first-time, beginning students at three points in time: at the end of their first year, and then three and six years after first starting in postsecondary education. It collects data on a variety of topics, including student demographic characteristics, school and work experiences, persistence, transfer, and degree attainment. BPS is a detailed follow-up to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), a nationally representative, cross-sectional study of U.S. postsecondary students designed to collect data on how postsecondary students pay for their education. The most recent BPS study, (BPS:12/14) used the 2012 NPSAS data as its base year (which included enrollment characteristics, education aspirations, and demographics) and conducted its first follow-up in 2014. (Another follow-up will be conducted in 2017.) During the 2014 follow-up study, BPS participants  were surveyed on their enrollment patterns since 2012—providing information about transfers, stopouts[1], attendance, and credentials earned—as well as on their employment histories. Study data were also drawn from a variety of other resources.

If you’re interested in comparing these findings to earlier BPS iterations, you can find earlier first look reports on the BPS publication page. BPS:12/14 data are also available for analysis through the online DataLab tool. If you have questions about the report or this data, please reach out to the National Center for Education Statistics at NCES.info@ed.gov or by phone at (800) 677-6987.

 

[1] A stopout is a temporary break in enrollment.

Behind the degree: Direct measures of cognitive skills or reports of highest degree earned

By Heidi Silver-Pacuilla

Categories of educational attainment – or highest degree earned – are often used in social science research as an indicator of a person’s knowledge and skills. This measure is objective and readily available, easily understood by survey respondents as well as by consumers of research and survey data, strongly tied to policies (such as those promoting high school graduation and college completion rates), and widely used in the labor market by employers. Moreover, strong connections between educational attainment and positive life outcomes, such as employment, earnings, health, and civic engagement, are well established.

Yet, this measure is an imprecise indicator of the amount of knowledge and skills an individual acquired during the years of education it took to complete the degree. It also masks variation across individuals and programs of study. In addition, adults continue to acquire skills and knowledge from a variety of sources and activities over their lifetimes after completing a degree, while on the job or through employer-sponsored training, continuing education, family and household management, hobbies and interests, etc. Adults also lose fluency with skills that are not put to regular use.

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey[i] provides direct measures of working-age adults’ cognitive skills based on their performance on literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving tasks set in real-life contexts. Performance is reported on a scale of 1-5 for literacy and numeracy and a scale of 1-3 for problem solving. It pairs these measures with a background questionnaire that asks about the use of skills at work and in daily life, work history, and other social, behavioral, and demographic indicators.


Percentage of adults age 16 to 65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by highest level of educational attainment: 2012Percentage of adults age 16 to 65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by highest level of educational attainment: 2012

# Rounds to zero
NOTE: Percentages of adults age 16 to 65 by highest level of educational attainment appear in parentheses. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), 2012.


The direct measures of cognitive skills offer researchers the ability to study actual skills rather than only using attainment of a particular degree as a general indicator of skills, and to investigate how those assessed skills relate to behaviors and life outcomes. To illustrate how directly measured skills and educational attainment are not always aligned, we can compare direct performance to highest degrees earned. In the United States, of all adults who have attained only a high school degree, 20% performed in the lowest levels (Level 1 and Below Level 1) of literacy, while 7% of adults with an associate’s degree and 5% of those with a bachelor’s degree performed at this level. At the same time, the results showed that 6% of adults with no more than a high school diploma, 14% with only an associate’s degree, and 24% with a bachelor’s degree have very high literacy skills, at Level 4 or 5 on the same scale. See the full range of educational attainment and skill performance in literacy in the chart above.

Findings such as this can help inform policy, interventions, and communication strategies to better meet the needs of the recipients.

To read more about direct measures versus educational attainment, see Chapter 8 of the OECD Survey of Adult Skills – Reader's Companion.


[i] The PIAAC survey is coordinated internationally by the OECD. NCES implements PIAAC in the United States. Results were first released in October 2013 with data from 23 countries. It is a household survey administered by trained data collectors to a nationally-representative sample of adults, ages 16 through 65, in each country, in the official language(s), and in most cases, in respondents’ homes on a laptop computer.

In the United States, the survey was first administered in 2012 and additional results, based on an expanded sample, will be released in 2015-2016. To learn more about the U.S. administration and reporting of the survey, as well as related data tools, see https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.  

Meeting policy needs for new data sources: Measuring work-related credentials

By Sharon Boivin

In the late 2000s, rising unemployment due to the recession led policy makers to begin asking questions about the qualifications of the American workforce, such as:

  • How many US adults have an education or training credential that is recognized by employers?
  • How many adults complete at least one year of education or training beyond high school? Do they also earn a credential?
  • What are the employment outcomes for adults with these credentials?

But key data to answer these questions were missing. The federal government had collected data on educational attainment and employment for many years, but did not regularly collect information on the number of adults with work-related credentials—

  • An industry-recognized certification shows that someone has demonstrated he or she has the knowledge and skills to perform a job.
  • An occupational license gives someone the legal authority to perform a job, and typically is also based on demonstrated knowledge and skills.
  • An educational certificate shows that someone has completed an occupational or technical course of study at a technical school, college, or university.

As the Department of Education’s research and statistics arm, IES recognized the importance of filling this data gap so that policy officials could have complete and accurate information for better decision making. Since 2009, the IES’ National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has funded and staffed a rigorous survey item development process under the guidance of the Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA)

Based on GEMEnA’s work, in January of 2014 the Census Bureau released the first official federal statistics on the number of adults with these kinds of work-related credentials. This year the Current Population Survey and the National Survey of College Graduates are collecting data on certifications and licenses that will greatly expand our ability to analyze their value in the workplace.  In 2016, NCES will field an Adult Training and Education Survey for the first time as part of the National Household Education Survey. 

Rigorous survey item development is time consuming and expensive. By investing in this work now, IES has helped to ensure that policy makers will have high quality data on education, training, and credentials to inform policy for years to come.