More adults earn post-high school credentials

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The percentage of working-age adults in the U.S. earning a post-high school credential continues to climb, according to an annual report by Lumina Foundation.

The national post-high school education attainment rate among adults 25 to 64 years old reached 54.3% in 2022, the most recent year for which data are available. That’s a year-over-year increase of 0.6 percentage points. Younger adults, those ages 25 to 34, had an even higher rate of attainment at 56.3%.

What’s more impressive is how much the two figures have increased since 2009, when Lumina started gathering and publishing the data. Overall, it has jumped by 16 percentage points over 14 years, from 38.1% to the current 54.3%. For younger adults, it has increased 17 percentage points since 2009.

A concerted effort

In 2008, Lumina set a national goal of 60% of working-age adults attaining a post-high school education credential by 2025. Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of strategic impact and planning, credits the various stakeholders who embraced the challenge, including colleges, organizations, states and others, for continual increases.

“That’s a collective commitment and dedication to education from partners all across the country,” she said during a press briefing this week.

Brown cited states’ efforts, noting it often required legislation to implement reforms to boost attainment, as well as colleges for better supporting students to help them succeed.

“These are not overnight successes,” she said.

Breakdown by credentials

Lumina’s annual “Stronger Nation” report uses data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to track progress. The data tool offers insights at the national, state and county levels and across major metropolitan areas, with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, age and credential type.

For example, the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees rose from 45.7% in 2021 to 46.5% in the 2022 data. Among states, 42 states saw an uptick in degree attainment, with 19 states and D.C. seeing an increase of more than 1 percentage point.

The number of short-term credentials stayed stable, with a slight decline in industry-recognized certifications, from 3.7% to 3.6%, and in college certificates from 4.3% to 4.2%.

A further breakdown of the education distribution of adults shows 9.2% earned associate degrees as their only or highest degree, with 22.7% earning baccalaureates. About 11.2% had some college but no credential. Among adults ages 25 to 34, 8.8% reached an associate degree and 27.1% a bachelor’s degrees; 12.2% had some college but no credential.

Diving into demographic

In 2008, adults ages 25 to 34 had an attainment rate of less than 38%, which was slightly lower than the entire working-age population. That trend has reversed, Brown said. The 25-to-34 group is at a 56.3% attainment rate — that’s 2 percentage points over the entire working-age population of 54.3%.

“That’s an incredible increase in attainment for that younger population,” Brown said.

The younger Hispanic population has played a pivotal role in this reversal, with degree attainment jumping from 19.4% in 2009 to 33.5% in 2022, Brown said. Degree attainment increased among all races and ethnicities, with Hispanic and Latino Americans gaining 1.7 percentage points from 2021 to 2022, followed by Black and white adults, who each experienced 1.5-percentage-point increases.

Still, significant gaps remain, with post-high school educational attainment rates among Black (35.7%), Hispanic and Latino (29.5%), and Native American (26.5%) adults falling significantly below the national average of 46.5%.

A new feature on Lumina’s tool is a search of credential attainment by race/ethnicity. It also includes data based on racial/ethnic subgroups for Asian and Hispanic Americans.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.