Strategic Plan 2005-2010

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Report Brief

The Condition Of Education 2003


With the creation of the original Department of Education in 1867, Congress declared that it should "gather statistics and facts on the condition and progress of education in the United States and Territories." The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) currently responds to this mission for the Department of Education through such publications as The Condition of Education, a mandated report submitted to Congress on June 1st each year. Recognizing that reliable data are critical in guiding efforts to improve education in America, The Condition of Education 2003 presents indicators of important developments and trends in American education.

Key Points from the Report

Participation in Education

  • At the postsecondary level, both population growth and increasing enrollment rates help explain rising enrollments.
  • Adult education is also increasing due to the influence of both demographic shifts in the age of the U.S. population and increasing rates of enrollment, as influenced by changing employer requirements for skills.
  • In a change from the enrollment patterns of the 1980s and 1990s, undergraduate enrollment in the current decade is projected to increase faster in 4-year institutions than in 2-year institutions. Women's undergraduate enrollment is expected to continue increasing at a faster rate than men's.
  • 2% of undergraduate students were foreign students with visas and 5% were foreign-born permanent residents, compared with 9% and 3%, respectively, of graduate and first-professional students in 1999-2000.
  • The percentage of persons 16 and above participating in adult education - including basic skills instruction, apprenticeships, work-related courses, personal interest courses, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and college or university credential programs - increased from 1991 to 2001. Work-related courses and personal interest courses were the most popular forms of adult education in 2001.

Student Effort and Educational Progress

  • Since 1972, status dropout rates for Whites and Blacks ages 16-24 have declined, but they have remained relatively stable since the early 1990s. The rates for Hispanic youths have not decreased and remain higher than the rates for other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Since 1983, immediate college enrollment rates have increased faster for Blacks than Whites, narrowing the gap between the two groups. During the 1980s and 1990s, White immediate college enrollment rates increased, but Hispanic rates remained stagnant, widening the gap between Hispanics and Whites.
  • On average, first-time recipients of bachelor's degrees in 1999-2000 who did not leave college temporarily for 6 months or more took 55 months to complete a degree. Those who attended only one institution took less time on average (51 months) to complete a degree than those who attended multiple institutions.
  • Among students who sough a bachelor's degree and began their postsecondary studies at a 4-year institution in 1995-96, just over half graduated from that institution within 6 years. Others in this group transferred and earned a degree elsewhere, making the cohort's 6-year rate of attaining a bachelor's degree higher (63%).
  • The transfer rates of community college students are related to their initial degree goals. Among undergraduates starting at a public 2-year postsecondary institution in 1995-96, about one-half who intended to obtain a bachelor's degree and about one-fourth who sough an associate's degree transferred to a 4-year institution within 6 years.
  • Postsecondary attainment rates vary with students' socioeconomic status, but rigorous academic preparation and achievement in school can partially compensate for disadvantage backgrounds. Among students from low SES backgrounds, those who studies calculus in high school were about 10 times more likely than those who did not to have completed a bachelor's degree or higher by 2000. In contrast, among high SES students those who completed calculus were 1.7 times as likely as those who did not to have completed a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Pell Grant recipients tend to start their postsecondary studies with more disadvantages than low- and middle-income non-recipients. However, among 1995-96 beginning postsecondary students, no difference was found in the overall persistence rates of Pell recipients and nonrecipients after 6 years- that is, in the percentages of students who attained any degree or certificate or were still enrolled.

Contexts of Postsecondary Education

  • Although issues of student access, persistence, and attainment have been predominant concerns in postsecondary education, the contexts in which postsecondary education takes place matter as well. The diversity of populations, the various educational missions and learning environments of colleges and universities, the courses that students take, the modes of learning that are employed, and the ways in which colleges and universities attract and use faculty and other resources all are important aspects of the context of postsecondary education.
  • Undergraduates display considerable diversity in their demographic, enrollment, and employment characteristics. In 1999-2000, more than half of undergraduates were women, close to a third were other than White, and 43% were of nontraditional college age (24 years or older). 80% were employed, including 39% who were employed full-time.
  • The number of associate's degrees awarded increased at a faster rate than the number of bachelor's degrees between 1990-91 and 2000-01. The number of associate's degrees awarded increased more during the first half of this period than in the latter half, while the number of bachelor's degrees awarded increased by 6% to 7% during each 5-year period.
  • In 1999-2000, about 9% of undergraduates reported having a disability that created difficulties for them as a student: about half of these students attended public 2-year institutions, and another 26% attended public 4-year institutions. Among students with disabilities, 22% reported not receiving the services or accommodations they needed.
  • The majority of postsecondary institutions had taken actions that affected faculty tenure as of 1998, and the proportion of recently hired faculty who were not on a tenure track increased from 1992 to 1998. These institutions offered early or phased retirement to full-time tenured faculty more often than they instituted more stringent standards for granting tenure or downsizing faculty.

Societal Support for Learning

  • The United States and Switzerland, two of the world's wealthiest countries, ranked highest in expenditures per student at the elementary/secondary and postsecondary levels. Wealthy countries such as the United States spent more on education, but typically did not spend a higher percentage of their wealth on education than did less wealthy nations.
  • Both average tuition and fees and the total price of attending college were higher for undergraduates in 1999-2000 than in 1992-2000. The net price (total price minus grants), however, did not change for students in the lowest income quartile.
  • The percentage of full-time undergraduates with federal loans, available to all undergraduates, increased between 1992-93 and 1999-2000. NO change was observed in the percentage with federal grants, typically available only to low-income undergraduates.
  • Among employed adults 25-64 who participated in adult education in 2001. 87% received employer financial support for work-related educations. A higher percentage of employed adults received support for work-related education than for nonwork-related education.

Additional Comments

The Condition of Education Report is available in two forms: a print volume 2003 and a web version on the NCES website ( The web version includes special analyses, essays, and indicators from this and earlier print volumes of The Condition of Education.


The National Center for Education Statistics. (2003). The condition of education 2003 (NCES 2003-067). Washington, DC: Author.

Submitted by R.M. Johnson, May 2004. This is a report summary and excerpts are quoted directly from the text.

The campanile

Iowa State was the first chartered land-grant institution.