Breaking Down the Latest College Graduation Statistics: Who's Earning Degrees?

Updated on March 20, 2024
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Written by
Andrea Mercado
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Layla Varela
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As the landscape of higher education in the U.S. undergoes significant changes, it's crucial to understand the forces at play. One striking trend is the decline in college enrollments alongside a rise in graduation rates. 

This article will explore the latest college graduation statistics in the U.S. and the number of adults holding college degrees and industry-recognized certifications, shedding light on the factors driving these shifts. 

Whether you're a student, educator, or simply curious about the evolving educational landscape, this report will provide valuable insights into the dynamics of post-high school education in 2024.

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College and Post-High School Enrollment Outlook

Institutions actively reshaped their programs to attract more students. This shift is a response to the changing landscape of post-high school education, where over 80% of institutions have either already implemented or are planning strategies to reach this goal. 

These efforts represent a significant step forward, reflecting a notable increase compared to the 2019 levels. 

According to Lumina's A Stronger Nation report, this gain marks the most substantial two-year increase observed, with the proportion of residents holding associate or bachelor's degrees or higher reaching an all-time high. 

This transformation has made exploring the evolving trends in college and post-high school enrollment more critical.

1. The District of Columbia has the highest overall attainment rates among younger adults in the U.S.

Regarding the states with the highest overall attainment rates among younger adults in the U.S., the District of Columbia stands out with the highest rate at 80.7%.

Following closely behind are New Jersey at 64.5%, Minnesota at 63.3%, and New York at 62.8%.

On the other hand, of the states that have made the most substantial gains in overall postsecondary attainment over two years, Vermont takes the lead with an increase of 6.4 percentage points, according to Forbes.

Indiana follows with a gain of 5.6 percentage points, and Idaho is just a little behind, making impressive progress with an increase of 5.4 percentage points.

2. From 2016 to 2022, the rate of high school graduates choosing to continue their education dropped from 70% to 62%

In recent years, there has been a notable shift in the choices made by young students in the U.S.

Between 2016 and 2022, around 2.5 million skipped college after high school. The Washington Post showed the rate of recent high school graduates choosing higher education decreased from 70% to 62%. 

This shift sparks essential questions about whether college is worth the cost and if it's too hard to get into good schools without the right qualifications or connections.

3. Over 80% of academic administrators are concerned about the future enrollment of their institutions

Academic administrators are grappling with a standard and pressing concern: the future of their enrollments. 

In 2022, a survey conducted by Bay View Analytics revealed that academic administrators are preoccupied with this matter.

That is a common concern, as just 11% of administrators reported no worries. Most of them (37%) classified their fears as high.

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

4. In the U.S., the six-year college completion rate stands at 62.3% 

Today, there is an apparent variation in the broader context of U.S. college completion rates by school type. 

Data shows in 2022, public four-year institutions offer a six-year % completion rate of 68%, while private nonprofit four-year schools surpass this with a 77.8% completion rate. Private for-profit four-year institutions are the lowest in this category, with a 47.6% rate. 

On the other hand, in the two-year college category, public institutions have a 43.1% completion rate, and private for-profit institutions have a slightly higher 45.1% completion rate. 

Considering all schools, the six-year completion rate stands at 62.3%.

5. 56% of surveyed Americans think college is no longer worth the time and money for the degree

Despite prominent business leaders, many with degrees from selective universities, some argue that a degree is optional for entrepreneurial success or that success depends on outperforming your rivals. Is it having that impact on college enrollments?

In a recent Wall Street Journal-NORC poll, over 1,000 Americans were asked their thoughts on college education. A significant 56% said it's no longer a worthwhile investment of time and money for a degree. 

6. 47% of graduate degrees are 3x more likely to volunteer compared to those with no postsecondary education

Individuals with graduate degrees exhibit a higher propensity for volunteer work. 

According to a Gallup study, 47% of graduate degree holders are over three times more likely to volunteer than those without postsecondary education, who stand at 14%. Even individuals with bachelor's degrees participate actively at a rate of 38%. 

The trend continues with charitable giving, as those with graduate degrees are more likely to donate to charities, reaching 77%, compared to individuals who don't pursue education past high school, standing at 38%. 

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Photo by Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

7. Americans with graduate degrees have incomes 3x higher than workers with only a high school diploma

Americans with graduate degrees earn over three times the income of individuals with only a high school diploma, while those with bachelor's degrees make more than double. 

A Lumina study underscores these income disparities, emphasizing the financial benefits of higher education, as it empowers individuals to take control of their lives and find fulfillment in their choices.

8. One-quarter of Hispanic college students face discrimination in the U.S.

The Lumina Foundation and Gallup published a study that revealed Hispanic students are more likely to experience discrimination than students from other racial or ethnic groups.

According to the report, around 25% of Hispanic students in the U.S. experience discrimination, which prompts many of them to contemplate dropping out of college. 

This discrimination often results in harassment, disrespect, and feeling unsafe, harming their educational experiences.

9. 52% of Hispanic students said they had considered stopping college for at least one term

A 2022 Gallup survey showed that 52% of Hispanic students had contemplated taking a break from their college coursework in the last six months of that year. 

Although the report didn't explicitly mention "discrimination" as a reason for considering this break, those students who felt discriminated against or experienced negative situations were more inclined to think about leaving their studies than those who didn't. 

The main factors cited by Hispanic students for this consideration were familiar to students from various ethnic backgrounds. However, Hispanic students were more likely to contemplate quitting due to caregiving responsibilities.

10. In 2022, young men were 9% less likely to have a bachelor's degree than young women

Disparities in college attainment persist, influenced by ethnicity and socioeconomic background.

However, according to Lumina, a profound transformation has occurred in the gender gap in bachelor's degree attainment over the last fifty years. 

In 1972, young men aged 25 to 29 were 6% more likely than young women to hold a bachelor's degree (22% vs. 16%). Fast forward to 2022, the situation has drastically flipped, with young men becoming 9% less likely to have a bachelor's degree than young women (35% for men and 44% for women).

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Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Summary: College Graduation Statistic

Final Thoughts

The college landscape is evolving, with lower enrollments but higher graduation rates. Over 50% of working-age adults hold a college degree or similar credential. However, academic administrators worry about future sign-ups and must address the 40 million students who started college but left.

More accessible education pathways are essential for success in higher education.

It is worth mentioning that higher education brings significant financial benefits, with students from the U.S. holding graduate degrees earning three times more than high school graduates. 

That underscores the value of higher education in empowering individuals to take control of their lives and find fulfillment in their choices.


What is the degree and short-term credential attainment rate in the U.S.?

According to Forbes, among younger adults aged 25 to 34, the degree and short-term credential attainment rate is 55.9%, which has increased by two percentage points since 2019.

What are the benefits of having a college degree?

The Washington Post reported that college-educated individuals are 3.5 times less likely to experience poverty. 

Additionally, people with college degrees are only half as likely to be unemployed as those with only a high school diploma. 

Do Black adults in the U.S. have different rates of working depending on their education?

Yes, Black adults have a stronger link between their education and employment rates. If they don't have postsecondary education, about 53% have jobs, slightly less than all U.S. adults with the same education.

But, if Black adults attend college and get associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, or graduate degrees, they are more likely to have jobs than all adults in the U.S. who get the same education. 

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Photo by Charles DeLoye on Unsplash


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Andrea Mercado is a tech-focused journalist and copywriter with over 5 years of experience covering innovation, edtech, AI, and internet trends across media outlets. She is passionate about how technology can democratize access to education and is an avid learner when it comes to emerging tech like AI. Her articles and webinars help readers stay informed on the latest tech developments.
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