- The past two years saw almost universal improvement in the rate of working-age adults with a college degree or credential, according to new data from the Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit focused on postsecondary education.
- Across the U.S., the share of adults grew to 53.7% in 2021, up from 51.9% in 2019. That's the largest two-year gain since Lumina began its A Stronger Nation report in 2009.
- Every state also saw improved degree attainment rates over the past two years, a first for the annual report. Washington, D.C. held the highest attainment rate in 2021 at 72.4%, followed by Massachusetts at 62.1% and Utah at 61.1%.
Today, 48 states have set postsecondary attainment goals. When the project first began, only Hawaii had set a goal, according to Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of impact and planning.
"Having more states focus on attainment is one reason that we're seeing this over the course of the last 15 years," she said during a press conference Monday. "None of this is an overnight fix. There's no way we can automatically increase degree attainment in one year."
States are also looking beyond quantity and are thinking about degree quality, according to Brown.
"It's not sufficient to just have a piece of paper," Brown said. "They want to make sure that it does have labor market value, that there is a job on the other end."
Lumina pulled information on degree attainment from the U.S. Census and Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
In addition to regional improvements, the nonprofit found degree attainment among adults ages 25 to 64 rose across all races and ethnicities.
In 2021, the number of Hispanic and Latino adults with degrees rose almost 2.5 percentage points to 27.8%. Black adults saw an almost 2 point increase to 34.2%. These numbers do not include certificates or credentials, as Lumina does not have race or ethnicity data for nondegree programs.
Despite these gains, both Black and Hispanic adults are still well below the national degree attainment average of 45.7%.
Brown lauded the nationwide improvements in educational attainment but said there's still a long way to go.
By 2025, Lumina aims to see 60% of adults earning a credential after high school. While the average has risen nearly 16 percentage points since 2009, that rate of progress is not enough to reach the goal, the report said.
"This is a thrupoint, not an endpoint," Brown said. "We believe we need to keep pushing on this to ensure that we have a stronger nation."