WASHINGTON — The high school completion rate for Blacks between the ages of 25 and 29 rose to nearly 87 percent last year, reaching about the same level as whites for the first time.
That education level for all adults 25 and older reached nearly 82 percent — the highest since it was first measured by the bureau in 1947, a Census report said.
“This is a very profound change in one of the country’s long-running, deep-seated problems — the disparity between whites and Blacks in education,” said Michael Casserly, director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the nation’s 50 largest urban school districts.
He said he is not surprised by the finding because his group has seen evidence of this trend at the local level. The gap has narrowed because schools, particularly in urban areas, have done more to keep students in school, have tailored programs for students who are faced with having to drop out and work, or leave school because of pregnancy.
“Finally, the effects are showing up in national statistics,” Casserly said. The findings are based on data collected in the bureau’s Current Population Survey in March 1995. Those questioned were asked to state the highest grade or degree they had completed. Education Secretary Richard Riley highlighted the findings of the census report in a study of youth indicators he released recently. “The long-term rise in educational attainment for the general adult population is driven principally by the replacement of older less-educated people by younger people who have completed substantially more education,” the report said.
The percentage of adults aged 25 and older who said they had completed at least high school peaked not only for the entire population, but for both males and females and for Blacks and whites, the bureau said. The proportion of adults who had earned a bachelor’s degree also was at a record high — 23 percent last year.
“School completion is one of the most important influences on economic well-being,” says Jennifer Day, author of the report. “Higher educational attainment tends to be reflected in greater socioeconomic success for individuals and the nation.” In the general adult population, the high school completion rates for men and women were roughly equal, at about 82 percent. But 26 percent of the men had earned college bachelor’s degrees, compared with 20 percent of the women.
In the 25 and older category, sizable differences in the numbers of people who had completed high school remained between whites and Blacks. Eighty-three percent of whites were high school graduates, compared with 74 percent for Blacks.
But when the bureau just looked at the youngest segment of the adult population — 25- to 29-year-olds — Blacks and whites were almost equal last year, at 87.4 percent for whites and 86.5 percent for Blacks.
The level of high school attainment has remained relatively unchanged for this younger white population — about 87 percent — during the past 10 years, the report said. However, the proportion of Blacks ages 25 to 29 who have at least a high school education rose from 80.6 percent in 1985 to 86.5 percent last year, the report said.
“They’re getting the message. They’re realizing how tough it is to get employment out there without having a high school education or without some secondary schooling,” said Sandra Ford Johnson, director of school attendance and records for the District of Columbia Public schools.
She said attendance improved last year in middle, junior and senior high schools, especially at ones with high immigrant student populations. Parents of these students see how difficult it is to find work and they know how important it is for their children to get an education, Johnson said.
People of Hispanic origin have the lowest proportions of completed education, the report said. “A contributing factor may be the large proportion of foreign-born Hispanics with less than a high school education,” it said. Fifty-three percent of Hispanic adults aged 25 and older are high school graduates, up from 48 percent in 1985, the report said. The rate rises to 57 percent for the 25-to 29-year-old Hispanics.
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