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Bachelor's Degree Attainment Tops 30 Percent for the First Time, Census Bureau Reports

     In March 2011, for the first time ever, more than 30 percent of U.S. adults 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today. As recently as 1998, fewer than one-quarter of people this age had this level of education.

     From 2001 to 2011, the number of Hispanics with a bachelor's or higher education increased 80 percent from 2.1 million to 3.8 million. The percentage of Hispanics with a bachelor's or higher education increased from 11.1 percent in 2001 to 14.1 percent in 2011. Overall, the increase in the proportion of the population with a bachelor's degree or higher went from 26.2 percent to 30.4 percent.

     “This is an important milestone in our history,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said. “For many people, education is a sure path to a prosperous life. The more education people have the more likely they are to have a job and earn more money, particularly for individuals who hold a bachelor's degree.”

Five Data Products Show Many Facets of Educational Attainment

     This information comes from Educational Attainment in the United States: 2011, a collection of national-level tables from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC). These tables present statistics on the levels of education achieved by various demographic characteristics, as well as changes over time. Historical tables go back to the late 1940s, when the CPS first began collecting data on attainment. This table package is one of five education-related statistical products released today. More findings...

     Below are listed the other four:

Those With Bachelor's Degrees Weathered Recession Better

     People with a bachelor's degree had lower rates of unemployment than those with less education in every month from January 2008 to December 2010. This period included all but one month of the recent recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.

     According to Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts reached a peak in January 2010 (17.6 percent) and February 2010 (17.9 percent). In February, unemployment for people with a bachelor's degree was 5.9 percent. More findings...

Science and Engineering Degree Holders Concentrated Along the Coasts

     More than one-third (20 million) of the nation's 56 million bachelor's degree holders held their degree in the broad field of science and engineering, including 4 million each in the social sciences and engineering and 3 million in biological, agricultural and environmental sciences.

     The report, Field of Bachelor's Degree in the United Sates: 2009, shows that nearly half the nation's science and engineering degree holders resided along the East or West coasts. A group of 10 states or equivalents along the East Coast stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia together were home to more than 28 percent of people holding such degrees. Another 19 percent lived along the Pacific coast in California, Oregon or Washington. More findings...

Earnings Tied to Degree Level, Field of Study and Mode of High School Completion

     According to What It's Worth: Field of Training and Economic Status in 2009, higher levels of educational attainment are associated with higher earnings. In 2009, the average monthly earnings for adults with a professional degree who worked full time were $11,927; the corresponding figure for bachelor's degree recipients was $5,455. Yet, one with lower levels of attainment may very well have higher earnings than those with higher levels, provided their degree is in a technical field. For instance, adults with an associate's degree in engineering earned an average of $4,800 per month, while bachelor's holders in education earned $3,800.

     The report also addresses disparities in educational and occupational outcomes by mode of high school completion. It shows that, in 2009, 16.9 million adults earned a GED certificate to satisfy their high school requirements. While 73 percent of those who received a high school diploma went on to complete at least some postsecondary education, less than half (43 percent) of GED recipients pursued postsecondary schooling. Only 5 percent earned a bachelor's degree or higher. In contrast, of high school diploma holders, 33 percent earned a bachelor's degree or higher. More findings...

     GED certificate holders earned less than high school diploma recipients at all education levels and across sex, race and ethnicity, and age. Overall, high school graduates earned approximately $4,700 in mean monthly earnings compared with GED certificate holders, who earned $3,100. This difference in earnings is only partly because of lower levels of educational attainment of those who earned a GED certificate rather than a high school diploma. Among adults who attained a bachelor's degree or higher, the mean earnings of those who earned a high school diploma were approximately $6,300, while the earnings of those who earned a GED certificate were approximately $4,900.

Statistics in this report are subject to sampling variability as well as nonsampling errors. Sources of nonsampling errors include errors of response, nonreporting and coverage. More details covering the design methodology are available online at <https://www.census.gov/apsd/techdoc/cps/cpsmar11.pdf> and <https://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/data_documentation/Accuracy/ACS_Accuracy_of_Data_2010.pdf>. All comparative statements in this report have undergone statistical testing, and unless otherwise noted, all comparisons are statistically significant at the 10 percent significance level.
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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | PIO@census.gov | Last Revised: May 19, 2016