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NCES Report Examines Gaps in Educational Attainment by Race/Ethnicity

May 27, 2013

The "Condition of Education 2013" uses data from a wide variety of sources surveys to assess education enrollment and student achievement at all levels. Data collected as part of the report are used to produce 42 indicators that measure education access and success, with many of these indicators dealing specifically with postsecondary education.

One key indicator measured by NCES is the rate of higher education attainment by demographic group. From 1990 to 2012, the percentage of 25- to 29-year-old Americans who attained a bachelor's degree or higher increased from roughly 23 percent to 33 percent. But much of this progress was due to rapid gains among whites, who saw their share of young adults with at least a bachelor's degree rise from 26 to 40 percent. This compares with an increase of 13 to 23 percent for blacks, and an 8 to 15 percent increase for Hispanics. The size of the gap between blacks and whites at this educational level in 2012 was not statistically different from that in 1990, but the widening difference between Hispanics and whites was significant.

Women generally also account for much of the recent progress in higher education achievement. In 1990, men and women had roughly equal shares of young adults with at least a bachelor's degree (24 percent for men, 23 percent for women). By 2012, the percentage of women who received at least a bachelor's noticeably exceeded those of men (37 percent versus 30 percent).

These differences in educational attainment by race/ethnicity and gender have a great effect on earnings. In 2011, the NCES data show, the median earnings of young adults (age 25 to 34) with a bachelor's degree was more than 50 percent higher than with only a high school diploma ($44,970 versus $29,950). Young adults with master's degrees had median earnings of $59,230. However, it is worth noting that in the period of 2009 to 2011, when adjusted for inflation, the median earnings of all full-time workers age 25 to 34 with bachelor's degrees or higher fell about 4 percent, from $52,180 to $50,000. Earnings for those with no higher degree than a high school diploma also fell 4 percent, from $31,370 to $29,950.

International Comparisons

The NCES report also compares higher education attainment among Americans with those from other countries. From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of U.S. citizens of traditional working-age (25- to 64-year olds) who had a bachelor's degree or more increased from 28 percent to 32 percent. At the same, the average among citizens of countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rose from 15 percent to 22 percent. Younger adults account for much of the gains in educational attainment in OECD nations. The average percentage of 25- to 34-year olds with a bachelor's degree or higher among countries in the OECD increased from 18 percent in 2001 to 29 percent in 2010—an increase of 11 percentage points. In contrast, the group of similarly-aged Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher increased only 3 points, from 30 percent to 33 percent.

Copies of Condition of Education are available for no charge from the NCES website.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis