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Educational attainment

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

Response:
Between 1990 and 2014, educational attainment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds increased. The percentage who had received at least a high school diploma or its equivalent increased from 86 to 91 percent, with most of the change (4 percentage points) occurring between 2004 and 2014. The percentage who had completed a bachelor's or higher degree increased from 23 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2014; and the percentage who had completed a master's or higher degree increased from 5 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 2014.

Female attainment rates have been generally higher than male attainment rates at each education level since 2000. More specifically, in 1990 the percentages of male and female 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed a bachelor's degree or higher were not measurably different, but in 2014 the percentage of females (37 percent) attaining this level of education was 6 points higher than the percentage of males doing so (31 percent). Similarly, in 1995 the percentages of males and females who had completed a master's degree or higher were not measurably different, but in 2014 some 9 percent of females had completed a master's degree or higher, compared with 6 percent of males.

Between 1990 and 2014, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who completed at least a high school diploma or its equivalent increased for Whites (from 90 to 96 percent), Blacks (from 82 to 92 percent), Hispanics (from 58 to 75 percent), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (from 92 to 97 percent). For Hispanics, most of the change over this period (i.e., 12 percentage points out of the total 17 percentage point change) occurred in the last 10 years. Between 1990 and 2014, the percentage of Whites who had attained at least a high school diploma or its equivalent remained higher than that of Blacks and Hispanics. However, the size of the White-Black attainment gap at this education level narrowed from 8 to 4 percentage points, and the size of the White-Hispanic gap narrowed from 32 to 21 percentage points.

From 1990 to 2014, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had attained a bachelor's or higher degree increased for Whites (from 26 to 41 percent), Blacks (from 13 to 22 percent), Hispanics (from 8 to 15 percent), and Asians/ Pacific Islanders (from 43 to 61 percent). Most of the increase for Hispanics over this period (4 percentage points) occurred in the most recent decade. Over the period from 1990 to 2014, the gap between Whites and Blacks in the rate of attaining a bachelor's or higher degree widened from 13 to 18 percentage points, and the gap between Whites and Hispanics in attaining this education level widened from 18 to 26 percentage points.

From 1995 to 2014, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who had attained a master's or higher degree increased for Whites (from 5 to 9 percent), Blacks (from 2 to 4 percent), Hispanics (from 2 to 3 percent), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (from 11 to 18 percent). The gap between Whites and Hispanics in the attainment of a master's or higher degree was wider in 2014 (6 percentage points) than in 1995 (4 percentage points); however the gap between Whites and Blacks in 2014 was not measurably different from that in 1995.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015144), Educational Attainment.

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