Education is compulsory in all states and a responsibility of each state and the local government. However, federal funds are available to help meet special needs at primary, secondary, or higher levels. Generally, formal schooling begins at the age of six and continues up to age 17. Each state specifies the age and circumstances for compulsory attendance. For 2001, federal government expenditure on education was estimated at $92.7 billion, or 4.7% of the total federal budget.
"Regular" schools, which educate a person toward a diploma or degree, include both public and private schools. Public schools are controlled and supported by the local authorities, as well as state or federal governmental agencies. Private schools are controlled and supported by religious or private organizations. Elementary schooling is from grade one through grade eight. High schools cover grades nine through 12. Colleges include junior or community colleges, offering two-year associate degrees; regular four-year colleges and universities; and graduate or professional schools. The school year begins in September and ends in June.
The enrollment rate of three- to five-year-olds in preprimary schools rose from 37% in 1970 to 64% in 2000. In 1999, 95% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 87% of those eligible attended secondary school. The percentage of persons 25 years old and over completing their college education was 11% in 1970 and 21% in 1992. By 1994, approximately 46.5% of the adult population had attended a post-secondary institution. In 2000, 15.8% of persons 25 years old and over had not finished high school; 33.1% completed high school, with no further education; 17.6% had attended college but not received a degree; 7.8% had an associate's degree; 17% had a bachelor's degree; and 8.6% had an advanced degree.
In 1999 total primary school enrollment (K-8) was 38,253,000 (33,488,000 public and 4,765,000 private). Total secondary enrollment (9–12) was 14,623,000 (13,369,000 public and 1,254,000 private); and total college enrollment was 14,791,000 (11,309,000 public and 3,482,000 private). In the same year there were a total of 3,304,000 elementary and secondary teachers at both public and private schools, for a total pupil-teacher ratio of 16 to 1. It was projected that by the year 2011, public schools would have 60.7 million students and private schools 10 million students. In 1994/1995, there were 3,688 higher education institutions, 1,473 of which were two-year and 2,215 were four-year colleges and universities. The literacy rate is estimated to be 98% (males 97% and females 98%).