Preschool and Prekindergarten

Publication Date:

Feb 12, 2019

Key facts about preschool and prekindergarten enrollment

  • Among children not yet enrolled in kindergarten, the percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in full-day prekindergarten and preschool programs increased from 21 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 2017.
  • In 2017, non-Hispanic black children were more likely to be enrolled in full-day preschool programs (42 percent) than their non-Hispanic white and Hispanic peers (29 and 23 percent, respectively), while non-Hispanic white children were the most likely to be enrolled in a part-day program (27 percent), compared to Hispanic and non-Hispanic black children (23 and 14 percent, respectively).
  • Children of families with higher levels of parental education are more likely to be enrolled in preschool programs than their peers with less educated parents; around 34 percent of children with parents that have a bachelor’s degree or higher attended a full-day program in 2017, compared with 18 percent of children with parents who have less than a high school degree.

Trends in preschool and prekindergarten enrollment

From 1994 to 2002, among those children not yet enrolled in kindergarten, the percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in full-time prekindergarten and preschool programs increased modestly, from 21 to 28 percent. After dropping to 25 percent in 2011, the percentage increased again, reaching 30 percent in 2017. Conversely, the percentage who were not enrolled in any preschool program declined from 52 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 2002, before increasing to 49 percent in 2008. The proportion was 47 percent in 2017. The percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in part-day programs remained relatively stable, and was at 23 percent in 2017 (appendices 1 and 2).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

Among the racial/ethnic groups included in this indicator, non-Hispanic black children are the most likely to be enrolled in full-day preschool programs. In 2017, among those children not yet enrolled in kindergarten, 42 percent of non-Hispanic black children ages 3 to 5 were enrolled in full-day programs, compared with 29 percent of non-Hispanic white children and 23 percent of Hispanic children. Non-Hispanic white children were the most likely to be enrolled in a part-day program (27 percent), followed by Hispanic children (23 percent) and non-Hispanic black children (14 percent). Overall, Hispanic children were the least likely of these groups to be enrolled in any program in 2017, with 54 percent not enrolled at all, compared with 44 percent of both non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children not enrolled (appendices 1 and 2).

*Hispanic children may be of any race.

Differences by parental educational attainment

In 2017, more than half of children ages 3 to 5 whose parents had less than a high school degree (62 percent) or only a high school diploma (54 percent) were not enrolled in any preschool program, compared with half of those whose parents had some college (52 percent) and just over one-third (37 percent) of children whose parents had at least a bachelor’s degree. Both full-day and part-day enrollment is more common among children whose parents have a bachelor’s degree. While these proportions have remained relatively steady for most parental education groups, the proportion of children whose parents have a bachelor’s degree who were not in preschool decreased from 1994 to 2002, from 43 to 30 percent. However, the proportion has increased since then, and was at 37 percent in 2017 (appendices 1 and 2).

Differences by immigrant status

Differences in children’s enrollment by parental nativity have fluctuated over recent years. In 2017, 31 percent of children with two native-born parents attended full-day preschool or prekindergarten, compared with 25 percent of children with at least one foreign-born parent. For part-day enrollment, these proportions differed less: Around 23 percent of children with native-born parents and 25 percent of children with at least one foreign-born parent were enrolled in part-day programs (Appendix 1).

Differences by family income

Children from families with higher incomes had higher rates of full-day preschool program enrollment. For example, in 2017, 34 percent of children ages 3 to 5 living in households with incomes of $75,000 or more were enrolled in a full-day program, compared with 24 to 30 percent of children who lived in families with incomes from $15,000 to just under $75,000. This disparity has decreased over time (Appendix 1). Around 40 percent of children in these high-income families did not attend any preschool program in 2017, compared with 46 percent of children with family incomes between $50,000 and $74,999, and between 54 and 55 percent of children with family incomes below $50,000 (Appendix 2).

The proportion of children not attending any preschool or prekindergarten program has generally increased since 1996 among those with family incomes of $30,000 or more, and has remained steady among those with family incomes less than that (Appendix 2).

Differences by region

Children in the West have lower rates of preschool program enrollment than those in other regions. In 2017, 52 percent of children in the West were not enrolled in any program, compared with 49 percent of those in the Midwest, and 46 and 38 percent of those in the South and Northeast, respectively. In 2017, children in the Northeast and South were most likely to be in full-day programs (38 and 37 percent, respectively, compared with 23 percent in the Midwest and 19 percent in the West) (appendices 1 and 2).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

State-level data on Head Start and prekindergarten enrollment, as well as information on spending, quality, and access, are available from the National Institute for Early Education Research, in its Annual State Preschool Yearbooks. See http://nieer.org/publications/annual-state-pre-k-reports-state-preschool-yearbooks.

International estimates

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes data on enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds in public or private early education programs, as a percentage of the population in that age group. For the latest data, see https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2017/indicator-c1-who-participates-in-education_eag-2017-23-en.

Background

Definition

This indicator includes all children ages 3 to 5 whose parents named nursery school, prekindergarten, or preschool as the grade they were attending. Parents were then asked to specify full-day or part-day enrollment. Because of the way the question was phrased, parents may have included a wide variety of childcare options when responding that their child participated in ‘nursery school.’

Children ages 3 to 5 who were enrolled in kindergarten or higher grades were excluded from all estimates.

Citation

Child Trends Databank. (2019). Preschool and prekindergarten. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=preschool-and-prekindergarten