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Nation Reaches Educational Attainment Milestone

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The Census Bureau collects data on educational attainment in three different surveys: the Current Population Survey (CPS), the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Each serves as an important tool to measure the educational level of our nation’s population. The ACS, for instance, offers local-level statistics.

But only one ─ the CPS ─ provides annual statistics all the way back to the 1940s, thereby giving us real perspective. Since that time, the percentage of the nation’s adults 25 and older with a bachelor’s had never topped 30 percent ─ until now.

According to tables from the 2011 CPS released today, more than 30 percent of adults this age reported they had a bachelor’s or higher degree. As recently as 1998, less than a quarter of people this age had this level of education. And back in 1947, the rate was only 5 percent. Yes, we’ve come a long way.

In the last 10 years the number of Hispanics with a bachelor’s degree or more grew by 80 percent, from 2.1 million in 2001 to 3.8 million in 2011.  Over the same period, the number of blacks with a bachelor’s degree or more grew by 47 percent.  The number of Asians with this level of education increased by 28 percent, and the number of non-Hispanic whites increased 24 percent.  These last two percentages are not statistically different, so we can’t really say whether Asians or non-Hispanic whites had the higher growth.

Eleven percent of the population, or 22 million, had an advanced degree, including 16 million with master’s and 6 million with professional or doctoral degrees. The number with advanced degrees increased 40 percent from 2001 to 2011.

These statistics are part of five different products the Census Bureau released today measuring different aspects of educational attainment.

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