Unfinished Business

New Census Data Show More than 30% of U.S. Population Age 25 and Over Holding at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

As a college education is becoming increasingly necessary for securing better-paying and stable employment in the United States, it was welcome news that the number of Americans age 25 and older who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree surpassed 30 percent in 2011, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As the Bureau reported, the 2011 rate (30.4 percent) was up significantly from 1998 when less than 25 percent of the population over 25 held a least a bachelor’s degree.

The Census data also show improvements in the rates among minority groups of people age 25 and older earning a bachelor’s degree or higher. Over the decade, 2001 – 2011,  the rate increased by 80 percent among Hispanics, by 47 percent among Blacks, and by 28 percent among Asians. The rate of increase was 24 percent among non-Hispanic whites.

The breakdown among women and men was roughly even, with 30 million men and 31 million women age 25 and over in 2011 having earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

The Bureau’s data also show that the economic advantages of earning a bachelor’s remain. The average earnings of those with only a high school education were $31,000 in 2010, compared with $58,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree.

The benefits of a college education are clear. But with the costs of higher education sky rocketing, it remains equally important that government programs such as Pell Grants — which help make a college education affordable for millions of students — do not get sacrificed in battles over taxes and spending in Washington, D.C. As the Save Pell campaign notes, “For students of color, Pell Grants are particularly important. Nearly half of African-American undergraduates and about 40% of Hispanic undergraduates rely on Pell Grants to attend school.”