The U.S. degree attainment rate—the percentage of Americans aged twenty-five to sixty-four with a two- or four-year degree—is on the rise, but it is not at the pace necessary to meet a goal that 60 percent of Americans hold degrees, certificates, or high-quality credentials by 2025, according to the most recent of the Lumina Foundation’s annual A Stronger Nation report.
The degree attainment rate, which is based on U.S. Census Bureau data, increased from 37.9 percent in 2008 to 40.4 percent in 2014, representing more than 4.2 million additional Americans with college degrees. The rate of increase was faster among twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds, rising from 37.8 percent in 2008 to 42.3 percent in 2014—a finding the report says “bodes well for further increases in the overall rate of attainment” but not enough to meet the 2025 goal.
In addition to reporting the attainment rate of two- and four-year degree holders, the Lumina Foundation was able to measure the number of Americans with “high-quality postsecondary certificates” for the first time, pegging it at 4.9 percent and reporting that the nation’s overall postsecondary attainment rate is 45.3 percent. The new data is based on a nationally representative sample of working-age men and women—those aged twenty-five to sixty-four.
“The secret to individual and societal success is talent—the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our citizens—but right now, our nation lacks sufficient talent to meet the demands of the global job market,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and chief executive of Lumina Foundation. “Many of those who see education beyond high school as valuable and essential aren’t able to attain postsecondary credentials in today’s environment. Closing that gap, or increasing attainment equity is an economic imperative, and will require a shift in the way we think about higher education to include and better serve non-traditional learners.”
When broken down by population group, the data reveals large disparities in degree attainment. Asian/Pacific Islanders have the highest degree attainment rate (60.6 percent), but then there is a large drop to whites (45.1 percent), and then another large drop to African Americans (28.7 percent), Native Americans (23.7 percent), and Hispanics (20.9 percent). The report says that serving African American, Native American, and Hispanic individuals better is “essential to increasing attainment rates overall” and meeting the 2025 goal.
The report also provides data for every state, every county, and the 100 largest metro areas. The states with the highest and lowest percentages of residents aged twenty-five to sixty-four with a quality postsecondary credential appear in the table below.
Among metro areas, Washington, DC/Arlington-Alexandria, VA (55.7 percent), Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA (55.1 percent), San Francisco–Oakland-Hayward, CA (54.0 percent), Minneapolis–St. Paul–Bloomington, MN (52.0 percent), and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (49.5 percent) have the highest degree attainment rates.
A Stronger Nation 2016, including individual policy briefs for all fifty states, is available at https://www.luminafoundation.org/stronger_nation2016.
 Lumina obtained this data through a survey administered by NORC at the University of Chicago that included only individuals who reported they were employed in the field in which the certificate was awarded.