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A Stronger Nation: New Federal Data Show More Adults Earning College Degrees

Lumina Foundation
Article Date
January 31, 2024

NDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 31, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- Lumina Foundation released the annual Stronger Nation report, highlighting results in its online data visualization tool for tracking working-age adults with degrees and other credentials of value.

The national education attainment rate among adults 25 to 64 years old reached 54.3 percent in 2022, the most recent year for which data are available. This gain represents a year-over-year 0.6-percentage-point increase.

The proportion of working-age adults with college degrees rose from 45.7 percent in 2021 to 46.5 percent in the 2022 data, the most recent year available. The number of short-term credentials remained relatively stable, with a slight decline in industry-recognized certifications from 3.7 percent to 3.6 percent and in college certificates from 4.3 to 4.2 percent, resulting in 7.8 percent of adults having quality short-term credentials delivering labor-market pay premiums.

Despite the lack of growth nationally in short-term credentials, there were bright spots.

"Kentucky and Rhode Island increased overall attainment by an impressive 3.4 percentage points compared with last year," said Courtney Brown, Lumina's vice president of strategic impact and planning. "Even as people question the value of higher education, the increase in degree attainment shows more people are investing in education, which on average leads to a higher quality of life. Younger adults have made tremendous gains, which bodes well for the nation's future."

Among adults 25 to 34 years old, 56.3 percent have attained a quality post-high school credential. That's a 17.4-percentage-point increase since 2009.

Degree attainment increased among all races and ethnicities, with Hispanic and Latino Americans gaining 1.7 percentage points from 2021 to 2022, followed by Black and white adults, who each experienced 1.5-percentage-point increases.

Nonetheless, significant gaps remain, with post-high school educational attainment rates among Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American adults falling significantly below the national average of 46.5 percent. These figures are 35.7 percent among Black Americans, 29.5 percent among Hispanic and Latino adults, and 26.5 percent among Native Americans, according to the 2022 data.

Lumina began publishing the Stronger Nation in 2009. At the time, the nation's degree attainment rate was 38.1 percent among working-age adults. The 8.5-percentage-point increase in the share of adults with bachelor's and associate degrees has driven significant gains. The remainder of the increase is attributable to researchers' efforts to define and measure the numbers of adults with quality short-term credentials—meaning those that secure wages at least 10 percent to 15 percent higher than a high school diploma alone.

Additional findings:

  • Thirty-five states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, experienced increases in educational attainment.
  • Adults between 25 and 34 years old have a degree attainment rate of 56.4 percent compared with 54.3 percent among the country's entire working-age population.
  • Alabama, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Washington, DC, experienced increases of 2 percentage points or more, Year-to-year variation in these figures is not unusual, and no single explanation accounts for these changes.

Please join us at 2:30 p.m. EST today, Wednesday, Jan. 31, for a live webinar to discuss the updated Stronger Nation data.

In 2008, Lumina issued a national call for 60 percent of adults in the United States to have college degrees or other quality credentials beyond high school by 2025 to meet labor-market demand and ensure the country's global competitiveness. Within the past 15 years, the proportion of adults in the United States between the ages of 25 and 64 with college degrees, certificates, or industry-recognized certifications has increased from 37.9 percent to 54.3 percent.

Stronger Nation relies on data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to track progress. The data tool offers insights at the national, state, and county levels and across major metropolitan areas, with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, age, and credential type.…