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Educational attainment

Question:
What are the trends in the educational attainment of the United States population?

Response:

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education completed by the time of the survey (reported here as high school completion or higher,1 an associate’s or higher degree, a bachelor’s or higher degree, or a master’s or higher degree). Between 2010 and 20202, educational attainment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds increased at each attainment level. During this period, the percentage who had completed at least high school increased from 89 to 95 percent, the percentage with an associate’s or higher degree increased from 41 to 50 percent, the percentage with a bachelor’s or higher degree increased from 32 to 39 percent, and the percentage with a master’s or higher degree increased from 7 to 9 percent.

Between 2010 and 2020, educational attainment rates increased for both female and male 25- to 29-year-olds across all attainment levels. During this period, attainment rates for this age group were generally higher for females than for males. However, in 2020, the attainment rates for females and males were not measurably different for those who had completed at least high school.


Percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds, by educational attainment and sex: 2010 and 2020

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Data were collected in March of each year and are based on sample surveys of the noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities); data include military personnel who live in households with civilians, but exclude those who live in military barracks. High school completion includes those who graduated from high school with a diploma as well as those who completed high school through equivalency programs, such as a GED program. Caution should be used when comparing 2020 estimates to those of prior years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates in 2020. For additional information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Current Population Survey data collection, please see www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar20.pdf. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.


Differences between the attainment rates for females and males (also referred to in this fact as the gender gap) were also observed by race/ethnicity3 in 2020. The White gender gap was 12 percentage points at the associate’s or higher degree level, 11 percentage points at the bachelor’s or higher degree level, and 7 percentage points at the master’s or higher degree level. The Black gender gap was 14 percentage points at the associate’s or higher degree level, 10 percentage points at the bachelor’s or higher degree level, and 4 percentage points at the master’s or higher degree level. Additionally, a gender gap was observed for Hispanic students at the associate’s or higher degree level (6 percentage points) and for students of Two or more races at the associate’s or higher degree (17 percentage points) and bachelor’s or higher degree levels (20 percentage points). However, there was no measurable gender gap at any attainment level in 2020 for either those who were Asian or those who were American Indian/Alaska Native.4 There were also no gender gaps for any racial/ethnic group in the percentage who had completed at least high school.

In 2020, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school was lower for those who were Hispanic (90 percent) than for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native (95 percent), Black (95 percent), White (96 percent), and Asian (97 percent). Despite the fact there were no differences between any other racial/ethnic groups in the percentages of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school in 2020, different patterns of degree attainment beyond the high school level exist. Between 2010 and 2020, the percentages who had completed at least high school increased for those who were Asian (from 94 to 97 percent), White (from 95 to 96 percent), Black (from 90 to 95 percent), and Hispanic (from 69 to 90 percent). The percentages who were of Two or more races (93 percent), Pacific Islander (93 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (95 percent) who had completed at least high school in 2020 were not measurably different from the corresponding percentages who had completed at least high school in 2010.


1 High school completion includes those who graduated from high school with a diploma as well as those who completed high school through equivalency programs, such as a GED program.

2 Caution should be used when comparing 2020 estimates to those of prior years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates in 2020. For additional information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Current Population Survey data collection, please see https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps/techdocs/cpsmar20.pdf.

3 Pacific Islander 25- to 29-year-olds are not included in this comparison because sample sizes in 2020 were too small to provide reliable estimates.

4 American Indian/Alaska Native 25- to 29-year-olds who attained a bachelorís or higher degree and who attained a masterís or higher degree are not included in this comparison because sample sizes in 2020 were too small to provide reliable estimates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). The Condition of Education 2021 (NCES 2021-144), Educational Attainment of Young Adults.

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