Post-high school attainment update shows progress, but many are still left behind
Stronger Nation, the signature report from Lumina Foundation used by policymakers and media organizations across the country, has some good news and not-so-good news this week:
The country is making steady progress in education and training after high school, with a higher proportion of Americans holding degrees and certificates. But large gaps remain across racial and ethnic groups.
And the incremental progress? It’s still too slow if we’re going to build the educated, trained workforce America needs to offer a high standard of living and be competitive in a complex global economy.
Lumina has a singular focus on this issue. To continue increasing the country’s social and economic security and prosperity, we’re working to help create a high-quality, affordable system of education beyond high school that serves all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, income, or geography.
Ideally, we would see 60 percent of people in this country with those degrees or credentials by 2025. But the new Stronger Nation report puts the current figure just shy of 47 percent.
Improvement will mean providing relevant, reliable, and transparent data that allow us to understand the nation’s educational attainment. Such data are essential to enabling practitioners, educational providers, employers, and policymakers to make better decisions as we redesign the education system.
Stronger Nation is a powerful source—an online interactive tool that allows anyone to visualize the status of attainment across the nation, in specific states, and within metro areas. The data can be broken out by race and ethnicity and level of education at the national and state levels. The tool is interactive, so the data can be arrayed in a variety of ways and customized by each user.
Some interesting facts:
- Since 2008, every state has increased its rate of educational attainment beyond high school—but not enough for the nation to reach 60 percent by 2025.
- Attainment is increasing among all races and ethnicities, but large gaps persist. When we look at associate degrees and higher, attainment sits at 41.7 percent overall—however among working-age Americans, African-American attainment is 30 percent, American Indian attainment is 24 percent, and Hispanic attainment is only 21.9 percent.
- The report highlights some data worthy of further investigation. Alaska has the lowest American Indian attainment rate in the nation at 11 percent, for example, but Hawaii has the highest American Indian attainment rate at 56.8 percent.
- The report shows the benefit of special efforts in many places: Of the 25 states that increased their degree attainment rates annually between 2012 and 2016, 20 have a specific attainment goal in place.
- 24 percent of working-age Americans hold a certificate as their highest post-high school credential.
- 25 states have attainment rates equal to or greater than the national average.
- The state with the highest attainment is Massachusetts at 56.2 percent. The lowest is West Virginia at 34.7 percent. There’s another side to that state’s story, however: West Virginia has seen the largest percentage increase in attainment since 2008, at 19.9 percent; followed by Kentucky at 18.4 percent.
We’re sharing our interactive database nationally, and we know from experience the information is of strong interest to policymakers and education reporters, among others. As we tell the story of education in the United States, and what states and communities are doing to foster greater education and training after high school, we’ll let you know as the information changes—and as the country’s prospects for the future continue to grow.
Courtney Brown, Ph.D., is the vice president of strategic impact at Lumina Foundation, overseeing efforts in the areas of strategic planning, impact, and learning. She also leads Lumina’s international engagement efforts.