The number of Americans with college degrees continues to grow, according to new federal census data. And Massachusetts, as expected, continues to lead the way with the highest percentage of adults 25 to 64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
In fact, the Bay State leads all states in all age categories and all levels of higher education attainment and the gap is growing. More than 42 percent of Massachusetts adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, followed by Maryland and Connecticut at 38.6 and 38.4 percent, respectively. Massachusetts is the only state, in fact, where more than half of the adult population of 25 to 64 – 50.8 percent – has an associate’s degree or higher. Interestingly, though, Massachusetts ranks 16th for adults with a high school diploma.
But the good news in the federal data is that the number of those with college degrees rose for both genders and among all racial and ethnic groups, with young women in all groups outpacing men in the same age groups.
But there is bad news in the numbers and the downside is far more striking. A report from the Indiana-based Lumina Foundation released this morning analyzing the data shows that minorities and low-income students continue to trail their more affluent white counterparts. Part of the reason is that they are more likely to drop out of high school or not enroll in college. The data shows that only about 10 percent of students whose families are in the lowest quartile for income attained college degrees by the age of 24.
An analysis of employment figures shows that those with a college degree have fared better during the recent recession and job prospects are much better than for those without a sheepskin. Since the end of 2007, the number of college graduates with jobs increased by 9 percent while employment has dropped for everyone else. The most recent unemployment figures show unemployment among young adults 25 to 34 with college degrees was 3.3 percent, while those in the same age group with a high school diploma but no college degree was nearly 12 percent. The state of Massachusetts’ economic recovery bears that out, as the unemployment went down sooner and faster than it did nationally but areas such as Fall River, New Bedford, Brockton, and other urban areas with lower college rates and lower incomes continue to struggle with higher joblessness.
“Maybe you don’t need a bachelor’s to change bedpans,” Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education, tells the New York Times, “but today if you’re an auto mechanic, you really have to understand computers and other technical things.”
All these numbers are happening against the backdrop of a push in Washington by Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to bring debt and cost relief to students with the interest rate on guaranteed loans set to double. President Obama is lobbying Congress to pass the bills to tie student interest rates to government borrowing rates.
Not everyone is on the college-as-investment bandwagon, though. George Leef, director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina, writes in Forbes that a college degree as a growth investment in your working future is a bunch of hot air. He says opening up access to more degrees will only water down the value of the paper, not raise the marketability of the holder.
“College used to look like a good ‘investment’ because earning a degree usually entailed at least some serious work and, having done it ,set the individual apart,” Leef writes. “These days, with the labor market saturated with college graduates, the time and money spent on college is often wasted.”
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