More Americans are college graduates

More Americans are earning college degrees: 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of two-year college degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates has also risen.

Enrollment and graduation rates are up, reports the New York Times. “The recent recession, which pushed more workers of all ages to take shelter on college campuses while the job market was poor, has also played a role.”

However, only about half of first-time college freshmen in 2006 had earned a degree by 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Low-income students continue to lag bar behind.  “Only about 1 out of 10 Americans whose parents were in the lowest income quartile held four-year college degrees by age 24 in 2011, compared to 7 in 10 from the highest quartile.

Lumina’s new report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, estimates that 38.7 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2011. That’s rising, but not fast enough to meet the foundation’s Goal 2025, which aims to increase the percentage of Americans with “high-quality degrees and credentials” to 60 percent in 12 years.

“There are worrisome signs that the demand for high-skilled talent is increasing more rapidly than we’re actually educating people,” said Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie P. Merisotis.

Lumina announced 10 achievement targets to raise the college attainment trend lines.

About Joanne


  1. 60% of the population would imply everybody down to an IQ of about 96. This is ludicrous.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      If you want to be cynical, you can note that the goal is to get 60% of Americans “high-quality degrees and credentials”. The goal is not to get 60% of Americans to have mastered a “high-quality curriculum”.


      If you want to be cynical …

      • “Credentials” includes vocational certificates that typically take six months to a year to earn. “Degrees” includes two-year degrees in vocational fields. Lumina isn’t trying to get everyone to a bachelor’s degree.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          I figured that 🙂


          But given the amount of concern for “credentialing” that I see on some of the web sites I frequent, I still find the phrasing funny.


          It would be more clear (but less inspiring … and much less amusing) if they simply said something about wanting 60% of Americans to have some *valuable* post-high-school training or education.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          And a high quality degree doesn’t have to imply any skills useful outside of academia …

  2. Linda Seebach says:

    Inside Higher Ed had an article on the Lumina report (H/T John Rosenberg at Discriminations):

    which quotes the report’s figures, “Among 25- to 29-year-olds, for example, 66 percent of Asians and 45 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans held at least an associate degree, compared to only 25 of black and 18 percent of Hispanic Americans. Just 17 percent of American Indians held a degree” (so Joanne’s comment about lesser credentials appears to be incorrect).

    It also quoted the report as saying, “We are all diminished as Americans by an education system that effectively rations postsecondary opportunity based on people’s skin color, income or family status,” Lumina said in the report. “Not only will the nation fall short of the attainment levels it needs unless these gaps are closed, the fact that the gaps exist must be rejected on moral grounds, given the increasingly severe consequences of not obtaining a postsecondary credential.”

    The claim that we have “an education system that effectively rations postsecondary opportunity based on people’s skin color, income or family status” is either dishonest or ignorant (likely both). The proper question is whether any of those three factors has *any* significant effect on postsecondary opportunity after you control for individual IQ.

    Mathematicians have a statistical tool that deals with questions like this: It’s called “principal component analysis.” You put all the factors you can think of that might have anything to do with educational attainment (and some you might not think of immediately, like birth month) into a matrix, shake it up statistically and get what is effectively a map of the relative size of their effects. I don’t know how to do this (when I studied linear algebra there were no computers around and it’s too hard to do by hand), but surely an outfit like Lumina could do it; you have to think they don’t want to know the answer.

    Charles Murray did something like this on income inequality between siblings in two-parent families (where skin color, income and family status are by defnition the same) and found there is almost as much inequality in that well-matched subset as there is in the entire NLSY population.

    Murray, C. (1998). Income Inequality and IQ (PDF). Washington (DC): AEI Press. ISBN 0-8447-7094-9.

  3. Given where Lumina Foundation gets its money (assets from the sale of a big student loan purveyor to Sallie Mae; see Wikipedia), why would we believe anything they have to say about the numbers of students enrolling in or completing college?

  4. How many of those who have 4-yr degrees are working in jobs which don’t require one? More people getting useless degrees is a problem, because of the amount of debt involved.

    Race, ethnicity and low-income are not causes of low representation of certain groups among college grads; culture is the issue and it explains both poverty and general lack of success. Growing up in a culture filled with dysfunctional and criminal behaviors has been generating more of the same for 40-odd years.

    • Linda Seebach says:

      Yes, culture is *an* issue; but there’s still a question about whether it’s cause or effect. Cultures tend not to prize things the people who share that culture tend to be bad at. Wales wouldn’t have choral festivals if the average Welsh person couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      There are a fair number of people with degrees that aren’t worth the pieces of paper upon which those degrees are printed. My last employer had a ban on hiring those with degrees from for-profit colleges because of an issue with one hire who didn’t know the first thing about accounting despite having a B.S. in accounting and being halfway to her M.S.

      Yes, the policy unfairly tarred all graduates of for-profit colleges with the same brush, but if those colleges want employers to hire their graduates, the for-profits need to stop acting as “diploma mills”.

      • It’s just as bad in for some for profits (and regular schools) in some STEM areas, esp. information technology or information security. It’s sad to see these students fork out a lot of dough for a degree, and then they come to find out they don’t know 1/10th of what they actually need to know to get their first job in the field.