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Status of Education in Rural America
NCES 2007-040
June 2007

2.9. Educational attainment


In 2004, the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree as their highest educational level was lower in rural areas than the national percentage.

In 2004, across the nation some 16 percent of adults age 25 and over lacked a high school credential, 30 percent had completed only high school (with a diploma or its equivalent), 27 percent had completed some college or an associate's degree, 17 percent had earned a bachelor's degree as their highest level of educational attainment, and 10 percent had a graduate or professional degree (table 2.9a).

In rural areas, the percentage of adults age 25 and over who lacked a high school credential (17 percent) was one percentage point higher than the national figure. No measurable differences were detected between the rural and national percentages of adults who had some college or an associate's degree as their highest level of attainment. Smaller percentages of rural adults (compared with the national percentages) had earned either a bachelor's degree (13 percent) or a graduate or professional degree (7 percent) as their highest educational attainment level.

Smaller percentages of adults in rural areas had a bachelor's degree or higher than did adults in cities and suburbs at all age groups. For example, 21 percent of adults ages 25–34 in rural areas had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 34 percent each in cities and suburbs (figure 2.9a). No substantive differences were found between the percentages of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher in rural and town locales, except among adults ages 45-54 and adults age 65 and over.

Overall and within each locale, adults age 65 and over had lower educational attainment than younger adults (table 2.9a). For example, among adults in rural areas, 13 percent of adults age 65 and over had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 21 percent of adults ages 45–54 years old and 20 percent of adults ages 55–64 years old. Thirty-three percent of rural adults age 65 and over did not have a high school diploma (or equivalent), compared with 13 percent of rural adults ages 25–34, 12 percent of those ages 45–54, and 17 percent of those ages 55–64.

Within each locale, a larger percentage of adults with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty threshold had a bachelor's degree or higher than did adults below the poverty threshold and adults between 100 and 185 percent of the poverty threshold. For example, in rural areas, 6 percent of adults with incomes below the poverty threshold and 7 percent of adults with incomes between 100 and 185 percent of the poverty threshold had a bachelor's degree or higher, while 23 percent of adults with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty threshold had a bachelor's degree or higher (table 2.9b and figure 2.9b).

In rural areas, 12 percent of adults with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty threshold lacked a high school credential, compared with 38 percent of adults with incomes below the poverty threshold and 32 percent of those with incomes between 100 and 185 percent of the poverty threshold (for a comparison of poverty definitions see appendix B).

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