Publication Date:

Sep 05, 2018

 
 

Key facts about educational attainment

  • The proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds who completed at least some college has almost doubled over the past three decades, from 34 percent in 1971 to 66 percent in 2017.
  • In 2017, black and Hispanic young adults were half as likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree as non-Hispanic white young adults.
  • At each level of schooling, women have higher rates of educational attainment than men; this is especially true among those who have completed at least some college (70 percent and 62 percent, respectively, in 2017).

Trends in educational attainment

The educational attainment of 25- to 29-year-olds generally increased from 1971 to 2000. The largest increases occurred in those who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, and those completing at least some college. Among 25- to 29-year-olds in 2000, 58 percent had completed at least some college, up from 34 percent in 1971 (a 72 percent increase); and 29 percent had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, up from 17 percent (a 70 percent increase). The proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds who completed high school or more also increased over this time period, from 78 percent in 1971 to 88 percent in 2000 (a 13 percent increase). Since 2000, progress has been slowed somewhat. In 2017, 93 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds had completed high school or more. The proportion who had completed at least some college was 66 percent, up from 58 percent in 2000 (a 13 percent increase). Thirty-six percent held a bachelor’s degree or higher, up from 29 percent in 2000 (a 23 percent increase) (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin[1]

Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic youth have experienced a history of systemic discrimination that has limited their opportunities to pursue higher education.[2] In 2017, non-Hispanic white young adults (ages 25 to 29) were more likely than non-Hispanic black and Hispanic young adults to have completed higher levels of education. However, gains by non-Hispanic black young adults over the last 30 years have nearly erased the black-white gap for high school completion: 96 percent of non-Hispanic white and 92 percent of non-Hispanic black young adults in this age group had completed high school in 2017. Hispanic young adults have also made gains in educational attainment since the 1970s, but have not completely closed the gap with their non-Hispanic white age-peers: 83 and 96 percent, respectively, had at least a high school level of education in 2017 (Appendix 1).

For rates of higher educational attainment, gaps by race/Hispanic origin are wider. In 2017, among non-Hispanic white young adults, the percentage who had attained at least a bachelor’s degree (42 percent) was over twice that among Hispanic young adults (19 percent), and almost twice the figure for non-Hispanic black young adults (22 percent) (Appendix 1).

Some of the gap in educational attainment between non-Hispanic white and Hispanic young adults in this age group can be attributed to recent Hispanic immigrants, who have often attained lower levels of education in their home countries.[3] In addition, the numbers reported here do not include incarcerated young adults; at least some of the narrowing race gap may be accounted for by relatively high incarceration rates among black and Hispanic males with low educational attainment, especially high school dropouts.[4],[5]

Differences by gender

In 2017, young women were almost three times as likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher than in 1971. Women now exceed men in the proportion attaining each level of education, with the widest gap among those who have completed at least some college. In 2017, 93 percent of women ages 25 to 29 had completed high school, compared with 92 percent of men. Seventy percent of women had completed at least some college, compared with 62 percent of men; 39 percent of women had received at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 32 percent of men. The actual gap is likely wider than this estimate, given the high incarceration rate for males who did not finish high school (Appendix 1).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

International estimates

International estimates for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are available by gender for people completing secondary and tertiary education from Education at a Glance, 2017, Indicator A1, at https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2017/indicator-a1-to-what-level-have-adults-studied_eag-2017-7-en.

Data and appendices

Data sources

Raw data source

Current Population Survey.
http://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps.html

Appendix

Appendix 1. Percentage of 25- to 29-Year-Olds by Level of Education Completed, Hispanic Origin, and Gender: 1971–2017

Background

Definition

This indicator defines educational attainment as the highest grade or degree completed, as reported in the March Current Population Survey (CPS). Before 1992, educational attainment was measured in the CPS as the number of years of completed schooling. “Completed high school” includes those with high school diplomas, as well as those with high school equivalency certificates. “At least some college” includes those with an associate degree or professional certificate. All estimates refer only to the civilian, non-institutionalized population.

Endnotes

[1] Hispanic youth may be of any race. Certain estimates for white and black youth in this report do not include Hispanic youth or those indicating multiple races.

[2] Carnevale, A. P. & Strohl, J. (2013). Separate & unequal: How higher education reinforces the intergenerational reproduction of white racial privilege. Washington, DC: Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/1050297/SeparateUnequal.FR_.pdf?sequence=1.

[3] Fry, R. (2002). Latinos in higher education: Many enroll, too few graduate. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/reports/11.pdf.

[4] Western, B. & Pettit, B. (2002). Beyond crime and punishment: Prisons and inequality. Contexts, 1(3), 37–43.

[5] Heckman, J. J. & LaFontaine, P. A. (2010). The American high school graduation rate: Trends and levels. Review of Economics and Statistics, 92(2), 244–262.

Suggested citation

Child Trends. (2018). Educational attainment. Available at: www.childtrends.org/?indicators=educational-attainment