Postsecondary Attainment Rates Rose Slightly in 2014, Report Finds

The percentage of working-age Americans with two- or four-year college degrees in 2014 rose to 40.4 percent, up slightly from 40 percent in 2013, a report from the Lumina Foundation finds.

This year, for the first time, the report, A Stronger Nation 2016 (218 pages, PDF), also includes data on the attainment of high-quality postsecondary certificates — in addition to associate's and bachelor's degrees — which, when included, brings the overall postsecondary attainment rate to 45.3 percent. Still, the current rate of year-over-year increases in degree and certificate attainment is insufficient to put Goal 2025 — the foundation's stated commitment to raise the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025 — within reach. Indeed, the foundation projects that if current trends continue, the postsecondary degree and certificate attainment rate will be closer to 53.9 percent in 2025.

According to the report — which includes demographic and geographic breakdowns of degree and certificate attainment rates by state and select metro areas — degree and certificate attainment rates for African Americans (34.2 percent) and Latinos (26.0 percent) continue to lag those of whites (49.7 percent). The study also found that the attainment rate among Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 is rising faster than that of working-age adults overall, reaching 42.3 percent in 2014, compared to 41.6 percent in 2013. The report notes that a 2015 Gallup/Lumina poll found that 59 percent of respondents believed that education beyond high school is available to anyone who needs it, yet only 24 percent thought it was affordable for all.

"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 Lumina Foundation president and CEO Jamie Merisotis. "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."

"New Report Shows National Postsecondary Attainment Rate Rises to More Than 45 Percent." Lumina Foundation Press Release 04/08/2016. "A Stronger Nation 2016." Lumina Foundation Report 04/08/2016.