About The Agenda
The Commission on Access, Admissions and Success in Higher Education, formed by the College Board, has been created to study the educational pipeline as a single continuum and identify solutions to increase the number of students who graduate from college and are prepared to succeed in the 21st century. The commission established 10 interdependent recommendations to reach its goal of ensuring that at least 55 percent of Americans hold a postsecondary degree by 2025.
- The indicators are rigorous
- The indicators are measureable on a regular basis
- The indicators have the ability to be disaggregated
U.S. Educational Attainment Among 25- to 34-Year-Olds
This indicator measures the percentage of adults in the United States between 25 and 34 years old who have at least an associate degree. The indicator is important in assessing the postsecondary attainment of a new generation of workers in the United States. It can be used to monitor the progress that America makes toward the goal of being a world leader in education attainment.
The attainment rate refers to the percentage of the population that has a particular education credential. This is a different measure than the completion rate. The completion rate refers to the percentage of students who enter a college or university and persist to earn a degree (associate, bachelor's, master's or doctoral) within a particular time period. Completion rate metrics for colleges and universities currently do not account for those who earn degrees after the specified time period (e.g., four years, six years or eight years), nor do they account for the percentage of part-time students or transfer students who go on to earn degrees. However, attainment rates capture those individuals who are currently left out of the definition of completion rates.
It is possible that the country's focus on improving completion rates could negatively influence access. Degree production, which accounts for part-time students and those who transfer, is yet another way to assess progress on national education goals, but it does not yield any information on institutional efficiency (e.g., time to degree) for colleges and universities. Students may take longer to graduate because of many factors, including inadequate amounts of financial aid, their under-preparedness and need for remediation, and responsibilities outside of school (in addition to other student, institutional and environmental factors).
As of 2011, 43.1 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States have an associate degree or higher. (This percentage comes from 2011 Census data. Please note that the OECD international comparison data are from 2010, the most recent OECD data available.) Thus, the nation is 11.9 percentage points away from the goal of 55 percent by 2025. To reach the goal requires an average increase of 0.85 percent per year between 2011 and 2025. The increases from 2009 to 2010, and 2010 to 2011, were 1.2 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, or 1 percent averaged over the two years. Thus, if current momentum is attained, the goal is achievable.
Even while our level of attainment is increasing, however, it still falls behind that of other developed nations. For example, 65 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 in the Republic of Korea have an associate degree or higher; in Canada, 56.5 percent do (Figure A). These leading countries are making significant progress in building an educated workforce.
It is important for all citizens of the United States to have the opportunity to access, and to succeed in, higher education. Persistent racial/ethnic gaps in educational attainment are a daunting problem for our country and may prove to be more challenging to overcome as the demographics of our society continue to change. As of 2010, among adults ages 25 to 34, 68.8 percent of Asians and 42.8 percent of whites have an associate degree or higher (Figure E). In contrast, only 30.4 percent of African Americans and 20.8 percent of Hispanics have an associate degree or higher, and the U.S. Hispanic population is expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other racial or ethnic groups. We must make larger gains for underrepresented minorities in the United States.
As of 2010, about 67.6 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the District of Columbia have an associate degree or higher, which exceeds the national goal of 55 percent that other states should strive to reach (Figure G). More than half of the population of both the District of Columbia and Massachusetts have an associate degree or higher. However, less than 30 percent of young adults in Arkansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana and West Virginia have an associate degree or higher.
For the United States to make headway in reaching the goal of 55 percent of young adults with an associate degree or higher, all Americans must have the preparation and resources to access and successfully complete a higher education. A major part of the challenge lies in diminishing disparities in primary and secondary education, without adversely affecting other populations, so that low-income students and underrepresented minority populations have the foundation needed to complete degrees. For this reason, we must monitor the education attainment of all citizens, as well as further analyze the education attainment of each race/ethnicity and income group.