A new report from the US Census Bureau shows that over the past 15 years, the number of Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree has grown steadily, a trend that continues for every racial and ethnic group.
The report, Obtaining the license in the United States: 2005 to 2019, uses data from the American Community Survey (ACS) comparing three non-overlapping five-year periods (2005–2009, 2010–2014, and 2015–2019) to represent changes in educational attainment over that period.
The ACS is an ongoing survey conducted by the Census Bureau that provides a range of information on an annual basis about the US population. It examines various topics such as jobs and occupations, education level, veterans, whether people own or rent their homes, and other topics. It has an annual sample of 3.5 million addresses across the United States and Puerto Rico and is conducted in every county in the country and every municipality in Puerto Rico.
Here is a summary of the main results:
The number of adults with a bachelor’s degree has increased overall.
The percentage of the population aged 25 and over with at least a bachelor’s degree has increased by about five percentage points over the 15 years.
- In 2005-2009, 27.5% of this group had a bachelor’s degree.
- This percentage rose to 29.3% in 2010-2014.
- And in 2015-2019, the percentage reached 32.1%.
The percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree has increased for all racial / ethnic groups, but success gaps by race persist.
The percentage change by race or ethnic group for the 15-year period was as follows:
Non-Hispanic whites 17.2%
Hispanic / Latino 3.9%
Native American / Alaskan Native 17.0%
Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander 24.3%
Other race 20.2%
Two or more races 35.9%
In general, racial groups with relatively lower levels of education during the period 2005-2009 experienced higher levels of growth in educational attainment during the period compared to groups that started with higher levels of education. higher. Nonetheless, as we know from many other polls and reports, racial gaps in achievement are stubborn reminders of the various barriers to completing college that many people of color face.
Here are the baccalaureate graduation levels by racial group in 2015-2019:
Non-Hispanic whites 35.8%
Hispanic / Latino 16.4%
Native American / Alaskan Native 15.0%
Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander 17.8%
Other race 12.0%
Two or more races 31.9%
While the country has seen an overall increase in the bachelor’s level over the past 15 years, the gains have differed by county and region.
Counties that started the 2005-2009 period with a level of achievement above the national average recorded larger percentage gains (3.8%) than counties that started below the national average (3.0%) . In other words, the county gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots” widened.
According to the report, “About half of the counties that were below the national average in 2005–2009 saw significant increases in the share of the population with a bachelor’s degree or above, while more than three-quarters of the counties were above the national average in 2005–2009 saw significant increases. “
At the regional level, there were also substantial differences.
In the Northeast counties, the average population with at least a bachelor’s degree was 29.8%, compared with 25.4% for those in the West, 21.9% for the counties in the Midwest and 19.7%. % for southern counties. Northeastern counties recorded the fastest growth rate (4.2 percentage points) over the 15-year period compared to slower rates for counties in other regions – Midwest (3.6 percentage points) , West (3.1 percentage points) and South (3.0 percentage points).
Bottom line: There is good news and bad news to these results. First, the good news. During a period when total university enrollment has declined, the number of adult Americans with undergraduate degrees has increased slightly. These advances may reflect large-scale political efforts that have focused on obtaining a degree, such as those advocated by Complete College America and the Lumina Foundation. And it’s also a testament to the hundreds of colleges and universities across the country that have worked hard to increase student retention and graduation rates.
But then there is the bad news. Disparities in graduation persist for a number of minority groups, despite serious efforts to reduce them. And geographic gaps have widened, with the South lagging further behind other regions during this period. Given higher personal incomes, lower unemployment levels, better health outcomes, and higher rates of community engagement strongly associated with higher levels of education, the importance of increasing – but more importantly – improving equality of educational attainment must remain an important national priority.