Since 1980, as the U.S. economy has grown and continued to evolve from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy, it has become increasingly important for workers to possess a post-secondary degree. In 1980, among full-time, year-round workers 25 to 34 years old, male college graduates earned 1.2 times as much as male high school graduates while female college graduates earned 1.3 times as much as female high school graduates.1 By 1997, male college graduates were earning 1.6 times as much as male high school graduates and female college graduates were earning 1.7 times as much as female high school graduates.2 Not surprisingly, there has also been a dramatic increase in college enrollment, from 11.4 million students in 1980 to 15.4 million students in 1997, an increase of 35 percent.3 Among the groups experiencing the largest percentage increases in enrollment over this period were women (44 percent), Blacks (64 percent), and those 35 years old and over (139 percent). As a result, the last 20 years have borne witness to notable changes in the characteristics of postsecondary students.
1 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-132, Money Income of Households, Families, and Persons in the United States: 1980, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1982.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-200, Money Income in the United States: 1997 (With Separate Data on Valuation of Noncash Benefits), U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1998.
3 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P20-516; and earlier reports.