American Education by the Numbers
> 8/29/2007 11:41:42 AM

The blink-and-you-missed-it summer of '07 has officially entered its last throes, leaving the majority of America's 75 million students, from pre-K to college, in a brief state of inevitable disbelief while waiting for the cycle, as certain as birth and death, to begin again.

Whether they went back this month or received the gift of one final nostalgic labor day weekend, more Americans will be attending class this fall than ever before. And that can't be a bad thing, can it? Several sources offer statistics to help outsiders appreciate the expansive scope and endless fiscal complexity of the United States education system. Some of the more important numbers:

-Approximately one in six American citizens will be enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school this year. The projected total expenditure for those schools: not nearly enough (or $489 billion, for those who insist on specifics). For the sake of staying on topic and preserving objectivity, we will avoid placing this number next to the yearly totals that our nation spends on certain unrelated, independent intitiatives.

-Average salary for a teacher in one of the United States' 97,000 public schools: $46,000, which sounds reasonable until considering that the given sample is almost certainly top-heavy as salaries rise (painfully, slowly but surely) with seniority and the three-year turnover rate among young hires approaches 50%. The same number for beginning teachers under 35 would certainly elicit more dramatic cringes. Also worth noting for those leaning toward the positive side of the opinion spectrum: the 2004-2005 school year marked the first time in recent memory that increases in teacher salary failed to keep up with inflation, and salaries for workers with at least four years of college are 50% higher than those of new teachers. The percentage of teachers who happen to be men also hit a 40-year low of 24.5%, with the lowest numbers all occurring in the country's southeastern region. The worst thing about these numbers is the fact that they can't be hidden from college students who are considering a career in the education field: National average salaries are expected to decline in coming years as Baby Boomer educators retire and new teachers enter the profession at lower entry-level salaries. Experts estimate that two million new teachers will be needed over the next decade. And without those teachers (and more), we can hardly expect performance numbers to improve per the wishes of our federal government.

-Per-student expenditures continue to rise to an estimated average of nearly $10,000 over the 2007-2008 school year. This number simply cannot go down. And it's doing some good, as 74% of all current American high schoolers will earn their diplomas within 4 years. The completion rates for disabled students continue to improve significantly as well, rising 17% between 1987 and 2003.

So we do have more students finishing high school, leading directly to what is perhaps our most encouraging statistic: as of this date in 2005, 49% of 18 and 19-year olds were enrolled in college; 69% enrolled in 2 or 4-year programs right after high school graduation, and an estimated 18 million Americans will attend 2 or 4-year programs, either full or part-time, in 2007-8. These numbers have all risen significantly in the last 30 years. So they're beginning to realize how important that degree will prove to be. And they're not afraid to go back, as 37% of current college students are 25 years of age or older. They can rely on these numbers to sway them if they're in doubt about the value of the investment: the average salary for an American worker 18 or older with a college degree is nearly twice that of a worker with only a high school diploma ($54,000 to $29,000). Of course, as enrollment goes up, so do tuitions and their corresponding debts. The average American college student owes $19,202 dollars on graduation day.

As for why so many students and parents remain unsatisfied with the school system while expenditures continue to rise to meet or surpass inflation, the organizations in question can only report the facts and immediately prepare for another round of endless, all but fruitless debate.


Great post. It's nice to have some numbers on call for arguments. - TL
Posted by: Tim Lacy 8/31/2007 1:29:47 AM

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