degree completion IHEP

New data reveals 10 stunning facts on national attainment rates

The newest data on postsecondary certificate attainment comes from NORC at the University of Chicago. The nationally representative survey data reveals that 4.9 percent of Americans hold high-quality postsecondary certificates.

Other statistics include:

  1. With the inclusion of NORC’s data, overall postsecondary attainment is at 45.3 percent nationally. However, the current rates of year-to-year increase is “not sufficient to achieve the Foundation’s Goal 2025,” notes the report. “In fact, the U.S. is projected to fall short of that number by 10.9 million people if the pace continues unchanged.”
  2. 40.4 percent of working-age Americans ages 25-64 held high-quality two- or four-year degrees in 2014 (the latest U.S. Census data available), which is up slightly from 40 percent even in 2013.
  3. According to the Gallup-Lumina Foundation study, 58 percent of Americans believe it is important to increase the proportion of the U.S. population with a degree or credential beyond high school. That belief is even stronger among minority populations, with 71 percent of Hispanics and 70 percent and African Americans expressing that view. Still, though overall higher education enrollment in the U.S. is 15.2 million, just slightly over 5 million (roughly one-third) of students enrolled in postsecondary programs are Hispanic, African American or Native American.
  4. Of American ages 25-64 who have a postsecondary degree, nearly 9 percent have earned an associate degree, 20 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree, and 11.5 percent have achieved graduate or professional degrees.
  5. An estimated 26 percent of working-age Americans have earned a high school diploma or equivalent as of 2014, with 21.5 percent reporting some college experience, but no degree.
  6. While 59 percent of Americans believe education beyond high school is available to anyone, only 24 percent think it is affordable to all.
  7. According to the Gallup-Lumina Foundation study, 70 percent of Americans strongly agree or agree that having a degree or professional certificate is essential to getting a good job; and 71 percent agree that employers value the knowledge and skills a degree represents.
  8. So far, 26 states have “set rigorous and challenging individual attainment goals,” says the report, and “most states committed to increasing attainment are taking concrete steps, such as implementing outcomes-based funding, improving developmental education, and making higher education more affordable to reach their goals.”
  9. The five states with the highest attainment rates are: Massachusetts (55 percent), Colorado (54 percent), Connecticut (53.2 percent), Minnesota (52.9 percent), and Washington (51.6 percent).
  10. The five state with the lowest attainment rates are: West Virginia (33 percent), Nevada (35 percent), Mississippi (36 percent), Alabama (36.7 percent), and Idaho (37.7 percent).

“The secret to individual and societal success is talent—the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our citizens— but right now, our nation lacks sufficient talent to meet the demands of the global job market,” said Merisotis in a statement. “Many of those who see education beyond high school as valuable and essential aren’t able to attain postsecondary credentials in today’s environment. Closing that gap, or increasing attainment equity, is an economic imperative, and will require a shift in the way we think about higher education to include and better serve non-traditional learners.”

The Foundation urges higher education stakeholders to use the report, and its additional tools available online, to help boost attainment rates.

For more data on the national attainment rate, including additional break-downs and methodology, as well as for additional tools, read “A Stronger Nation.”