Home / Education / Articles / Nearly two-thirds of preschool-aged children attend early education programs

Over 7 million children 3-to 5-years-old attended an early childhood education program in 2017, the most recent year of data available. This is a significant increase over the last fifty years from 37% in 1970 to 64% in 2017.

Funds to support preschools come from a variety of sources. Two of the largest programs are Head Start, which provides comprehensive services for low-income families with young children, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which distributes funds to states to administer child-care services.

3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in educational programs

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While total enrollment is increasing, enrollment in publicly-provided programs has outpaced private programs. From 1970 to 2017, the percentage of young children enrolled in public programs increased from 26% to 46%, while enrollment in private programs increased from 12% to 18%.

Enrollment in public vs private programs

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A greater proportion of young children enrolled in educational programs are in full-day programs. As of 2017, 65% are enrolled in full-day programs compared to 17% in 1970. Conversely, the percentage of children in part-day programs fell from 83% to 35%.

Enrollment in full-day versus part-day programs

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While more 3- to 5-year-olds are attending educational programs, this varies by race and parent(s)’s educational background.

Asian children are the most likely to participate in an educational program at a young age, with 67% of 3- to 5-year-olds participating, followed by White with 66%, Black with 64%, Hispanic with 60%, and Native American with 55%.

The educational background of the parent(s) creates an even wider spread. 74% of young children whose parent(s) completed graduate-level education attend educational programs compared to 52% of young children whose parent(s) did not finish high school.

Learn more about education in the US.

Sources

National Center for Education Statistics, Table 202.10, 202.20

Congressional Research Service, Early Childhood Care and Education Programs: Background and Funding