The U.S. is making slow, but steady progress in the number of Americans who hold high-quality credentials beyond high school diplomas. New data on nationwide postsecondary attainment released today by Lumina Foundation in its latest A Stronger Nationreport indicates that 40.4 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held high-quality two- or four-year degrees in 2014, the latest U.S. Census Bureau (American Community Survey) figures available, up slightly from 40.0 percent in 2013.
For the first time, this year’s Stronger Nation report also includes data on the attainment of postsecondary certificates. According to nationally representative survey data obtained by NORC at the University of Chicago, 4.9 percent of Americans hold high-quality postsecondary certificates. Certificates, which are often awarded by community and technical colleges, have significant value in the workforce and can provide the basis and gateway for further education.
Including the newly obtained NORC data, A Stronger Nation puts overall postsecondary attainment at 45.3 percent nationally.* The current rate of year-over-year increase is not sufficient to achieve the Foundation’s Goal 2025—that by 2025, 60 percent of Americans hold high quality postsecondary degrees or certificates. In fact, the U.S. is projected to fall short of that number by 10.9 million people if the pace continues unchanged.
African American and Hispanic populations also continue to lag in attainment. While the attainment rate for whites is 49.7 percent, only 34.2 percent of African Americans have earned high-quality degrees or certificates and 26.0 percent of Hispanics have achieved education beyond high school. A Stronger Nation includes additional demographic and geographic breakdowns of current degree and certificate attainment rates at the state level and for select metro areas.
“The secret to individual and societal success is talent—the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our citizens—but right now, our nation lacks sufficient talent to meet the demands of the global job market,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “Many of those who see education beyond high school as valuable and essential aren’t able to attain postsecondary credentials in today’s environment. Closing that gap, or increasing attainment equity is an economic imperative, and will require a shift in the way we think about higher education to include and better serve non-traditional learners.”
Data from a 2015 Gallup-Lumina Foundation Study of the American Public’s Opinion on Higher Education show that ideas about postsecondary education are in fact changing. While 69 percent of adults think of college in terms of “a campus where students live and attend classes with the goal of getting a four-year degree,” 54 percent now also think “students working to earn a certificate to use in the workforce” describes college education, up significantly from 40 percent a year ago.
According to the Gallup-Lumina Foundation study, 58 percent of Americans believe it is important to increase the proportion of the U.S. population with a degree or credential beyond high school. That belief is even stronger among minority populations, with 71 percent of Hispanics and 70 percent and African Americans expressing that view. Still, though overall higher education enrollment in the U.S. is 15.2 million, just slightly over 5 million, or roughly one-third of students enrolled in postsecondary programs are Hispanic, African American or Native American.
“Our nation will only thrive to the extent that we provide opportunities to the millions of Americans who need them. It’s up to all of us—policymakers, employers, educators, community members—to better support those not well served by the current system, including in ages 15-24, first-generation students, older working adults, and minority and low-income communities,” said Merisotis. “It must be a concerted effort, nationally and at the state level, to better support and create pathways to education beyond high school. Policy leaders in many states have set their own attainment goals already and are making clear progress, but the U.S. still has a long road ahead to closing attainment gaps for all Americans.
The five states with the highest attainment rates are:
The five states with the lowest attainment rates are:
Of the 25 most populous metropolitan regions in the continental U.S., the top 10 metros ranked by degree attainment are:
Of the 25 most populous metro regions in the U.S. the 10 with the lowest attainment rates are:
Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with degrees, certificates and other high-quality credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina’s outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an equitable, accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025.