The Decline in Private School Enrollment

SEHSD Working Paper Number FY12-117 
January, 2013 
Stephanie Ewert 
U.S. Census Bureau Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division

Private schools represent a significant part of the education sector and provide an opportunity for children to attend schools, at cost, that may offer benefits unavailable in the public school system. Parents might choose to send their children to private schools for a variety of reasons, including the availability of academic programs and extracurricular activities, religious reasons, dissatisfaction with the local public schools, and school characteristics such as class size and student-teacher ratios. Over the last decade, government statistics seem to show that private school enrollment has declined. Although the trend has been noted (Aud et al., 2011), the phenomenon has not been examined in detail. Since private schools represent a sizable portion of the education sector, a decline in enrollment would warrant attention. Specifically, is the decline the result of a particular data collection system associated with a specific survey, or a real trend? Does the trend hold for various socio-demographic subgroups? If so, what are potential underlying causes? This paper seeks to provide relevant background information on the topic by comparing trends across datasets and subgroups and exploring possible underlying causes of the decline in private school enrollment. 

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