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Educational attainment

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

Response:

Educational attainment is the level of education completed by the time of the survey (reported here as at least high school completion,1 an associate’s or higher degree, a bachelor’s or higher degree, or a master’s or higher degree). Between 2010 and 2021,2 educational attainment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds increased at each attainment level. During this period, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school increased from 89 to 94 percent, the percentage with an associate’s or higher degree increased from 41 to 49 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. Although educational attainment rates increased over this period for both males and females and among most racial/ethnic groups, attainment gaps persisted in 2021.

Between 2010 and 2021, educational attainment rates increased for both female and male 25- to 29-year-olds across all attainment levels. During this period, attainment rates were generally higher for females than for males.


Percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds, by educational attainment and sex: 2010 and 2021

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 2021 estimates to those of prior years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates in 2021. 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/cpsmar21.pdf.. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.


Differences between the attainment rates for females and males overall (also referred to in this fact as the gender gap) were also observed by race/ethnicity3 in 2021. Where gender gaps existed in 2021, they favored female 25- to 29-year-olds over their male peers. Specifically, the White gender gap was 1 percentage point at the attainment level of at least high school completion, 13 percentage points at the associate’s or higher degree level, 9 percentage points at the bachelor’s or higher degree level,4 and 7 percentage points at the master’s or higher degree level. The Black gender gap was 15 percentage points at the associate’s or higher degree level and 12 percentage points at the bachelor’s or higher degree level. The Hispanic gender gap was 4 percentage points at the attainment level of at least high school completion, 9 percentage points at the associate’s or higher degree level, and 8 percentage points at the bachelor’s or higher degree level.5 Additionally, a gender gap was observed for those of Two or more races at the bachelor’s or higher degree level (23 percentage points). However, there was no measurable gender gap at any attainment level in 2021 for either those who were Asian or those who were American Indian/Alaska Native.6

In 2021, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school was lower for those who were Black (94 percent) than for those who were White (96 percent) and Asian (98 percent). Additionally, the percentage was lower for those who were Hispanic (88 percent) than for those who were Black, of Two or more races (95 percent), White, and Asian.

Between 2010 and 2021, the percentages who had completed at least high school increased for those who were Asian (from 94 to 98 percent), White (from 95 to 96 percent), Black (from 90 to 94 percent), and Hispanic (from 69 to 88 percent). In addition, the percentage was higher in 2021 than in 2010 for those of Two or more races (95 vs. 89 percent), although there was no consistent pattern of change throughout the period. The percentages who were Pacific Islander (86 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (93 percent) who had completed at least high school in 2021 were not measurably different from the corresponding percentages 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 2021 estimates to those of prior years due to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic had on interviewing and response rates in 2021. 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/cpsmar21.pdf.
3 Pacific Islander 25- to 29-year-olds are not included in this comparison because sample sizes in 2021 were too small to provide reliable estimates.
4 Throughout this fact, details may not sum to totals because of rounding.
5 A gender gap was not observed at the attainment level of at least high school completion for those who were Black, nor was a gender gap observed at the master’s or higher degree level for those who were Black or Hispanic.
6 American Indian/Alaska Native 25- to 29-year-olds who attained a bachelor’s or higher degree and who attained a master’s or higher degree are not included in this comparison because sample sizes in 2021 were too small to provide reliable estimates.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Educational Attainment of Young Adults. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/caa

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