February 24, 2012
Figures released by the Census Bureau yesterday indicate that over 30 percent of adults in the United States now hold bachelor's degrees, marking an all-time high.
"We believe this is a notable milestone," said Kurt Bauman, chief of the Census Bureau's Education and Social Stratification Branch, who was quoted by The Washington Post.
A decade ago, 26.2 percent of Americans over age 25 held a bachelor's degree, and 8.7 percent held a graduate's degree. According to the new figures, as of last March, 30.4 percent held degrees from four-year colleges, and 10.9 percent held graduate degrees.
The data also indicated that minorities made significant gains in college degree attainment. From 2001 to 2011, the number of Hispanics with at least a bachelor's degree increased 80 percent, from 2.1 million to 3.8 million. The proportion of Hispanics over age 25 who held at least a bachelor's degree rose from 11.1 percent in 2001 to 14.1 percent in 2011.
In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Deborah A. Santiago, vice president for policy and research at the nonprofit Excelencia in Education, noted that raising the college completion rate among Hispanics is crucial.
"We can't reach that 2020 goal if we don't have a tactical plan to increase Latino college completion," she said, referring to President Obama's objective to reclaim the world lead in college attainment by 2020. "This population is engaged to help the country meet that goal."
Among African-Americans, the share of adults holding bachelor's degrees increased from 15.7 percent in 2001 to 19.9 percent in 2011. Among non-Hispanic whites, the number increased from 28.7 percent to 34 percent. Asian-Americans were found to be the most educated racial group, with 50.3 percent holding four-year degrees and 19.5 percent holding graduate degrees.
The new figures also reflect another significant milestone: Women are now poised to surpass men in educational attainment. As reported by The New York Times, men held a 3.9 percentage-point lead in bachelor's degrees and 2.6 percentage points in graduate degrees in 2001. But by last year, both gaps had narrowed to just 0.7 percent.
The census data also showed that field of study matters more with respect to future earnings than education levels. For example, an associate's degree in engineering earned an average of $4,257 in monthly earnings in 2009. But the monthly earnings for a bachelor's degree in liberal arts were about $4,000, and a bachelor's in education yielded $3,417 a month.
"So the point here," said Bauman, as quoted by The Washington Post, "is that sometimes a subject a person has pursued is as important as how far they went in school."
Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman
"New Census Data Show Minority Gains in Bachelor's Degree Attainment," chronicle.com, February 23, 2012, Emma Roller
"Number of U.S. Adults With College Degrees Hits Historic High," washingtonpost.com, February 23, 2012, Daniel de Vise
"U.S. Bachelor Degree Rate Passes Milestone," nytimes.com, February 23, 2012, Richard Perez-Pena