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Chapter 2. School-Related Characteristics

Indicator 24. School Completion and Educational Attainment

In 2009, some 19 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 had not completed high school, while 81 percent had at least a high school diploma or equivalency certification. While many 18- to 24-year-olds were still enrolled in school and had not yet finished their education (see Table 8), the highest level of educational attainment for 29 percent of young adults was high school completion, while 36 percent had attended some college, 5 percent had an associate's degree, and 10 percent had a bachelor's or higher degree. Between 1980 and 2009, the percentage of young adults whose highest level of education was completion of high school decreased from 46 to 29 percent. Conversely, the percentages of young adults whose highest level of education was some college or a bachelor's degree increased from 25 to 36 percent and from 7 to 9 percent, respectively, between 1980 and 2009. Between 1995 and 2009, the percentages of young adults who received an associate's degree and who received a bachelor's or higher degree also increased (from 4 to 5 percent and from 8 to 10 percent, respectively).

High school completion or less was the highest educational attainment for greater percentages of male than female young adults in 2009. In addition, greater percentages of female than male young adults reported attending some college or receiving an associate's, bachelor's, or higher degree. Between 1980 and 2009, the percentage of young adults whose highest level of educational attainment was high school completion only decreased from 44 to 32 percent for males and from 48 to 26 percent for females. During this same time period, males and females completed higher levels of education. For example, between 1995 and 2009 the percentage of young adults who had a bachelor's or higher degree increased from 6 to 8 percent for males and from 9 to 12 percent for females.

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24a. Snapshot: Educational Attainment by Nativity

Changes in the demographic characteristics of today's youth are also characterized by their nativity status—whether they are born in the United States (defined here as the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia) or move to the United States later in life. Of those who move to the United States, some become U.S. citizens and some do not. The educational attainment of young adults in the United States varies by nativity and citizenship status. In 2009, some 16 percent of young adults (18- to 24-year-olds) had not completed high school.11 A higher percentage of young adults born outside of the United States (30 percent) had not completed high school than had their U.S. born peers (15 percent). Although adults in this age group may not have had time to finish college, 41 percent of U.S.-born young adults had some college education, compared to 29 percent of young adults born outside of the United States.

The educational attainment of young adults born outside of the United States varied by sex; females had higher levels of educational attainment than males in 2009. Seventy-five percent of female young adults born outside of the United States had completed at least high school, compared with 66 percent of males. Similarly, 31 percent of female young adults born outside of the United States had some college education, compared to 26 percent of males. In addition, among young adults born outside the United States, a higher percentage of females than males had completed a bachelor's or higher degree in 2009 (11 vs. 7 percent).

U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 24 who were born outside of the United States had higher levels of educational attainment than non-U.S. citizens in the same age group. Thirty-nine percent of male and 30 percent of female noncitizen young adults born outside of the United States had not completed high school in 2009, compared to 12 percent of male and 10 percent of female U.S. citizens born outside of the United States. Similarly, 22 percent of noncitizen young adult males had attended some college, compared to 42 percent of male U.S. citizens born outside of the United States. In 2009, some 45 percent of female U.S. citizens born outside of the United States had attended some college and 18 percent had attained a bachelor's or higher degree, compared to 27 percent of female noncitizens who had attended some college and 9 percent who had attained a bachelor's or higher degree.

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11 These estimates are from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) and may differ from the estimates shown in Table 24 due to differing data sources.

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