More Americans Have College Degrees

June 20, 2013

The number of Americans graduating from college has surged in recent years, sending the share with a college degree to a new high, federal data shows. The surge follows more than two decades of slow growth in college completion, which caused the United States to fall behind other countries and led politicians from both parties, including President Obama, to raise alarms, says the New York Times.

  • Last year, 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • In 1975, the share was 21.9 percent.
  • The number of two-year college degrees, master's degrees and doctorates has also risen recently.

The increases appear to be driven both by a sharp rise in college enrollment and by an improvement among colleges in graduating students. The trends could bring good news in future years, economists say, as more Americans become qualified for higher-paying jobs as the economy recovers.

The attainment of bachelor's degrees has risen much faster for young women in the past decade than for young men. It has also risen among young whites, blacks and Hispanics, though relatively little among Asians, who already had the highest rate of college completion.

  • The share of people with a college degree also varies tremendously by state, with 48.1 percent of people ages 25 to 34 in Massachusetts holding a bachelor's degree, but just 20.4 percent in Nevada, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
  • The unemployment rate for graduates of four-year colleges between the ages of 25 and 34 was 3.3 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For high school graduates in the same age group who had not attended college, it was 11.8 percent.

Some of the recent increase in college completion has come among students who enroll in college or return to it at older ages, and experts say any future increases will probably need to come among this group as well, given its growth potential.

Source: Catherine Rampell, "Data Reveal a Rise in College Degrees Among Americans," New York Times, June 12, 2013.

 

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