Blog: The Educated Reporter

Bevy of New Education Data Paints Mixed Picture

Student loan debt is still near a $1 trillion, there are more schools with concentrated poverty, and college degrees are leading to more jobs following a dip during the economic downturn. These are some of the findings from the federal government’s “The Condition of Education 2013,” an annual report issued this week by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Today’s economy puts young graduates in a difficult position” said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the department of education. “A college diploma no longer guarantees a direct pathway to the middle class, making it harder to justify the expense of a degree.“

Buckley added: “Yet, when we look at the low employment rates for those who have only completed high school or less, we see how hard it is to get a good job without some type of higher education.”

The report includes 42 indicators that track trends in enrollment, achievement and money spent for the entire education spectrum, from preschool to postsecondary.

Among 20-24 year olds, nearly a third are neither working or in school, a symptom of the tough job market and the toll it is taking on young adults. However, while just 13 percent of college graduates in that age group aren’t employed or enrolled, that figure triples for those with only a high school diploma.

Employers have been hiring more male college graduates ages 20-24 after a decline following the 2007 recession. The CNES report calculates that employment for this group is at a four-year high when looking 2012 data. Women with similar backgrounds have been slower to recover ground loss during the economic downturn: Since 2008, employment among this group has dropped slightly from around 90 percent to roughly 85 percent.

More young people are entering college right after completing high school or its equivalent. Between 1975 and 2011, the measure used to capture that student demographic—the immediate college enrollment rate—inched upward from 51 percent to 68 percent. However, the enrollment rate for low-income students was 30 percentages points less than for students from high-income households (52 percent to 82).

Overall, more Americans are completing two- and four-year degree programs, rising 38 percent and 63 percent, respectively between 2000 and 2010. But in the same period, total college debt among consumers has doubled when adjusted for inflation, and two-year default rates on postsecondary loans have increased from 6.9 percent to 9.1 percent. Delinquencies—being past due by more than 90 days—have nearly doubled to 11 percent.

Total education expenditures for all K-12 public schools are calculated in the report. In 2010, instruction costs took up the grand majority of all education spending, totaling $6,852 per pupil out of $10,784. Other large costs per pupil include operation and maintenance ($1,063) and administration ($830).

Teacher salaries have been decreasing over time as a total share of education spending, dipping from 66 percent to 60 percent between 1999 and 2010. However, benefits have increased as a share over the same period, from 16 to 21 percent.

The report also includes spotlights on rural education and kindergarten preparedness.

Brief notables on kindergarteners:

  • Twenty-six percent of all enrolled kindergartners in 2010-11 came from households that were below the poverty threshold. The report explains that for a family of three with one child to fall below the threshold in 2010, its income would have to be less than $17,552.
  • Thirty-one percent of enrolled kindergarteners in 2010-11 came from households in which the highest education level obtained was a high school diploma or less.
  • Twelve percent of kindergarteners were either repeating the same grade level or entering late.
  • Just over half of all kindergartners were white in 2010-11. Blacks made up 14 percent of all enrolled students in that grade while Hispanics accounted for a quarter. Five percent of the students were Asian.

Among rural students for 2010-11:

  • While 57 percent of all school districts in the U.S. were categorized as rural, they account for 24 percent of all students in K-12.
  • Seventy-one percent of all rural students are white. 10 percent are Black and 13 percent were Hispanic.
  • Rural students are more likely to graduate high school on time than their urban peers, earning diplomas in four years 79.9 percent of the time compared to 67.6 percent among urban students.

 Photo source: Morgue File/Dave