Just the Stats: U.S. Behind in College Degrees

The United States is quickly falling behind other industrialized nations in terms of adults who hold a college degree, and minority groups are the least likely to attain that level of education,  according to a recent report released by higher-education groups examining a state-by state analysis on access and equal opportunity for postsecondary education. 

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) prepared the report, which was supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education and Jobs for the Future.

The report, “Adding It Up: State Challenges for Increasing College Access and Success,” exams data from 2005 projected to 2025, which includes analysis on demographic changes, as well as educational attainment based on race and ethnicity for student data in both high-school and throughout college.

According to the U.S. Census in 2005, 42 percent of Whites ages 25-64 hold an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic Americans and 26 percent of African-Americans.

Based on the census projections, the United States over the next 20 years will encounter a substantial projected increase in populations from minority groups, specifically Hispanics. These are typically the underserved population in higher education.

“This looming degree gap cannot be filled without a strong commitment to erasing racial and ethnic disparities in educational attainment,” says the Lumina Foundation.

In order to keep in line with other leading nations, the report concludes that the United States would have to “ramp up” our college-degree completions. The nation was ranked tenth compared to other industrialized nations for the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds with an associate’s degree or higher, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  However, when compared to similar industrialized nations, the United States is ranked near the bottom in numbers of students who actually complete a higher-education program.

According to the NCHEMS report, “key indicators show that states must focus on sealing leaks in the educational pipeline to increase the share of the population that has a college degree.” The four-year, public high school graduation rate is below 75 percent of the total population in 29 states. 

Student Progress to and Through College: High School Graduation and College Continuation, 2005

Source: Making Opportunity Affordable, Lumina Foundation 2007

Top Five States in Public High School Graduation Rate

New Jersey

85.6%

North Dakota

84.7%

Nebraska

83.8%

Minnesota

83.6%

Utah

82.6%

Nation

68.8%

Bottom Five States in Public High School Graduation Rate

Nevada

50.7%

South Carolina

52.1%

Georgia

54.1%

Florida

55.0%

New York

57.7%

Top Five States in College Continuation Rate

South Dakota

68.6%

New York

67.9%

North Dakota

67.6%

South Carolina

66.9%

Minnesota

65.3%

Nation

55.5%

Bottom Five States in College Continuation Rate

Utah

42.6%

Washington

43.4%

Vermont

43.4%

California

43.7%

Alaska

44.9%

One-in-five states enroll fewer than half of their high school graduates into postsecondary education, within the first year of graduation.  In 2005, only eight states graduate 20 percent of their full-time, four-year students.\

Degrees Produced Per 100 Full-Time Equivalent Students Enrolled, 2005

Source: Making Opportunity Affordable, Lumina Foundation 2007

Top Five States In Two-Year Degrees

North Dakota

24

South Dakota

23

Montana

20

New Hampshire

19

New York

19

Nation

12

Bottom Five States in Two-Year Degrees

Louisiana

7

Georgia

8

Alaska

9

Arizona

9

Texas

9

Top Five States in Four-Year Degrees

Washington

26

California

25

Arizona

23

Illinois

23

Maryland

22

Nation

19

Bottom Five States in Four-Year Degrees

Alaska

8

Nevada

10

Louisiana

14

South Dakota

14

Idaho

15

From 2005 to 2025, roughly 48 million undergraduate degrees will be awarded throughout the nation.  However, to keep pace with other leading nations and domestic workforce needs, during that time frame, the United States would have to produce 64 million additional undergraduate degrees, or a 55 percent increase between 2005 to 2025. 

Only eight states are on pace to reach educational attainment goals to compete with peak-performing nations by 2025.

–Olivia Majesky-Pullmann

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