More Adults Earning College Degrees
February 3, 2023
Lumina Foundation released an updated A Stronger Nation, the foundation’s online tool for tracking the share of working-age adults with degrees or other credentials of value. The national post-high school education rate among adults 25 to 64 years old reached 53.7 percent in 2021, an increase of nearly 2 percentage points since 2019 when the percentage was 51.9.
“This is exciting because this gain represents the largest two-year increase we have seen,” said Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of strategic impact and planning and director of the Stronger Nation project. “This is also the first time every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have experienced increases in the proportion of residents holding associate or bachelor’s degrees or higher.”
An online data visualization tool, Stronger Nation relies on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which experienced difficulties with data collection in 2020 tied to the pandemic.
Findings from the 2021 data, the most recent available, include:
- The percentage of people earning degrees increased across all races and ethnicities but rose the most among Hispanics and Latinos, an almost 2.5-percentage-point gain, followed by an almost 2-point increase among Black adults.
- Nonetheless, educational attainment rates among Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, Alaska Native, and poor, rural adults are still lower than the national average of 45.7 percent.
- Among adults 25 to 34 years old, the rate of degree and short-term credential attainment is 55.9 percent, an increase of 2 percentage points. This level of attainment indicates more people in the future will be prepared for jobs requiring college-level knowledge and skills.
- States that experienced the largest two-year gains in attainment were Vermont (6.4 percentage points), Indiana (5.6 percentage points), and Idaho (5.4 percentage points).
In 2008, Lumina issued a national call for 60 percent of adults to have college degrees or other high-quality credentials beyond high school by 2025 to meet labor-market demand and ensure the country’s global competitiveness. Within the past 15 years, the proportion of adults in the United States between the ages of 25 to 64 with college degrees, certificates, or industry-recognized certifications has increased from 37.9 percent to 53.7 percent. These gains in the share of adults with education and training after high school have come from growth in the numbers of adults earning credentials and an improved ability to measure and count quality short-term credentials such as certificates and certifications.