Record Numbers of Young Americans Earn Bachelor's Degree

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Although the United States no longer leads the world in educational attainment, record numbers of young Americans are completing high school, going to college and finishing college, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available census data.

This year, for the first time, a third of the nation's 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor's degree. That share has been slowly edging up for decades, from fewer than one-fifth of young adults in the early 1970s to 32 percent last year.

The share of high school graduates in that age group, along with the share of those with some college, have also reached record levels. This year, 90 percent were high school graduates, up from 78 percent in 1971. And 63 percent have competed some college work, up from 34 percent in 1971.

The study attributed the increase both to the recession and a sluggish jobs recovery, which led many young people to see higher education as their best option, and to changed attitudes about the importance of a college education. In a 2010 Gallup survey, about three-quarters of Americans agreed that a college education is very important, up from only 36 percent in 1978.

The wage premium for those with college degrees has leapt 40 percent since 1983, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

"The demand for college graduates has been increasing about 3 percent a year, while the supply has increased only one percent a year, which is why the college wage premium has increased so precipitously," he said.

The United States was the undisputed global leader in educational attainment until 1992. But more recently, some European countries have been producing degree-holders at a higher rate -- and a faster-growing rate.

"The recent increases in the U.S. come at a time when other advanced economies are registering similar or greater gains, leading experts and college presidents to question whether the U.S. has been losing its competitive position as the global leader in higher education," the report said.

Over the past few years, education experts have warned that the United States had undergone a worrisome "education reversal," in which older Americans are more educated than younger ones. For example, in 2007, the share of adults aged 45 to 64 who had graduated from high school or earned a bachelor's degree was slightly higher than among 25- to 29-year-olds.

But now, the report found, "the education reversal that arose in the first decade of the 2000s has vanished or been reversed by recent improvements in the education attainment of young adults."

education

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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