College Degree Attainment Rates Increasing, Report Finds

The percentage of working-age Americans who have two- or four-year college degrees rose to 39.4 percent in 2012, from 38.7 percent the year before, a report from the Lumina Foundation finds.

According to the 2014 edition of A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, the 0.7 percentage point increase in the rate of degree attainment among Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 is the largest since the annual report series was launched in 2008. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 34, degree attainment rose 3 percentage points, to 40.9 percent, putting Goal 2025 — the foundation's initiative to boost the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025 — within reach.

Although all racial/ethnic groups showed improvement, disparities between groups persist, with rates among African Americans (27.62 percent), Native Americans (23.43 percent), and Latinos (19.81 percent) lagging those of Asian Americans (59.35 percent) and white Americans (43.87 percent). And while college-going rates increased from 62.0 percent to 67.1 percent among African Americans and from 59.7 percent to 66.6 percent among Latinos, only 53.5 percent of college-age students from the bottom third of the income scale enrolled in college, compared with 82.4 percent from the top third.

The report argues that sustaining the current rate of increase in degree attainment and achieving Goal 2025 will require a redesign of the education system, including basing postsecondary credentials on learning; creating smarter pathways for all students; and making higher education accessible and affordable to all who need it.

"Momentum is building around increased attainment in America, and we believe that the need — the hunger — for education beyond high school is stronger than even before," said Lumina Foundation president and CEO Jamie P. Merisotis. "Recent student-centered changes in American higher education have made this progress possible. Now it's time to accelerate the system redesign so that we can meet future workforce needs, strengthen our democracy, and give all Americans — regardless of race, income, and other socioeconomic factors — the opportunities that postsecondary attainment provides."