More Americans than ever are earning a college degree. The numbers are up dramatically since 1940, when just one in 20 adults had a bachelor’s degree,1 shortly before 7.8 million military veterans went to college on the GI Bill.2 But just how many Americans are getting a college degree now? Who’s earning them? And what good is it doing them? Here are 10 eye-opening facts about U.S. educational attainment:
- One in three adults has a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The 2021 census puts the number of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree at more than 88 million, of the total adult population of 253 million.3
- The percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees has been growing steadily.
When the U.S. Census Bureau studied the three 5-year periods starting in 2005 and ending in 2019, it found that the percentage of the population over age 25 with bachelor’s degrees increased each period over the one before it. From 2005–2009 to 2010–2014, the percentage grew by 1.8, and from 2010–2014 to 2015–2019, it grew by 2.8.4
- 30-somethings are the best-educated age group.
More than 19 million Americans in their 30s have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The runner-up age group is degree-holders in their 40s.3
- More women than men have college degrees.
The Census Bureau most recently counted 39.5 million men with bachelor’s, master’s, professional (law, medicine, and others), and doctoral degrees. Women exceeded that number by several million at 45.4 million.3
- Nearly twice as many young women as young men have doctoral degrees.
Women under 30 are staying in college and completing PhDs more than men their age. About 124,000 women in that age group have earned the degree, compared with 72,000 men.3
- Bachelor’s degrees among African Americans are up 25%.
In an example of positive social change, the Census Bureau study of the three 5-year periods from 2005–2009 to 2015–2019 determined that the number of African Americans who graduated from college increased 25.4% over that time.4
- The Northeast has the highest percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees.
The Northeast is the most populated of any U.S. region, so it’s natural it would have the most bachelor’s degrees. But it also has the greatest number per capita. About 30% of the Northeastern population had a bachelor’s in 2019.4
- The average college graduate earns $27,000 more a year.
Workers with at least a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,334 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those with only a high school diploma earned $809. That’s a median annual premium of $27,300 for the college graduate.5
- College graduates are more likely to stay employed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, the unemployment rate among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 3.5%, while 6.2% of those with only a high school diploma were unemployed.5
- The average doctoral candidate takes 5.8 years to earn their degree.
The Survey of Earned Doctorates reported in 2020 that a doctoral degree can take about half again as long to complete as a bachelor’s.6 A well-chosen program and some advance planning, however, can help in earning a degree quicker.
How to Become Part of the Surge in Higher Education
You can be part of the growth in educational attainment and the benefits that college graduates are likely to receive. Consider your personal interests and search for colleges that offer degree programs in related fields. Online learning, with its greater scheduling flexibility and no commute, may be more convenient for balancing work, family, and other responsibilities.
Walden University is an accredited university offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs online. Programs of study include business, education, nursing, and psychology. Courses are designed with working professionals in mind.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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