Who finishes college?

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show a striking disparity in which races are more likely to obtain their college degrees. The Bureau found that more than half (52%) of Asians 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or more. That's higher than the level for non-Hispanic whites (33%), blacks (20%) and Hispanics (14%). 

The data come from tabulations on Educational Attainment in the United States: 2010 and provide the most detailed information on years of school completed ever presented by the Census Bureau, showing for each level of attainment exactly how many years of education adults have. Data also include levels of education cross-referenced by a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, including age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, marital status, household relationship, citizenship, nativity and year of entry. Historical tables provide data on mean earnings by attainment level, sex, race and Hispanic origin, with data dating back to 1975 and tables on attainment levels dating back to 1940.

In 2010, 36 percent of the nation's population 25 and older left school before obtaining a degree. This includes 15 percent of the population that didn't earn a regular high school diploma — a group sometimes labeled "dropouts." Among this group were about 1 percent of the population who reached the 12th grade, 2 percent who reached the 11th grade but still did not graduate, and 2 percent who earned a GED.

The majority of adults (64 percent) finished their schooling with a regular high school diploma or college degree. The most common of these is a high school diploma, which was the highest level attained by 30 percent of those 25 and older. Another 9 percent left school with an associate's degree, and 15 percent finished with a bachelor's degree (not statistically different from those who did not earn a high school diploma). Eleven percent of the population attained an advanced degree in 2010.

Other highlights in the survey:

  • In 2010, 87 percent of adults 25 and older had at least a high school diploma or equivalent, up from 84 percent in 2000.
  • Of the 200 million people 25 and older in 2010, 26 million had not completed high school, while 174 million had attained at least a high school education.
  • In 2010, 30 percent of adults 25 and older, or 60 million people, had at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 26 percent in 2000.
  • Women 25 and older were more likely than men 25 and older to have completed at least high school, at 87.6 percent versus 86.6 percent.
  • Among the population 25 to 29, 36 percent of women had a bachelor's degree or more, compared with 28 percent of men.
  • Thirty percent of foreign-born residents of the U.S. had less than a high school diploma, compared with 10 percent of native-born residents. Nineteen percent of naturalized citizens had less than a high school diploma. At the same time, 29 percent of the foreign-born population had a bachelor's or higher degree, compared with 30 percent of the native-born population. (The percentage of native-born residents with at least a bachelor's degree was not statistically different from the percent of foreign-born residents with less than a high school diploma.) Thirty-five percent of naturalized citizens had a bachelor's or higher degree.

Go to the U.S. Census Bureau for more information.

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