47 thoughts on “US College Degrees

  1. That would be an appropriate metric (it’s the metric that has been used for decades) because it is sensitive to changing rates of education. A longer average lifespan or changes in graduation efforts etc. will change the full percentage, as will demographic shifts (because babies do not have college degrees, usually).

    SO the number to use is actually the 25 to 29 cohort because it tracks the current situation without being so current that it is contaminated much by student loan policies and such.

  2. I was feeling generous so I voted a mere 15%, even though my dad had been saying since the 60s that it wouldn’t be long before even the garbage collector needed a PhD.

  3. Rather than geographically showing results, I would have preferred grouping results based on respondent’s age. Of course that would have required I input additional information.

  4. You could of course cheat and look it up.


    In the extended answer it had the percentages broken down by region, which is fascinating in its own right. More interesting would have been the total as well, which wasn’t there.

    I must admit, that working in the education sector in Australia means that this number is kind of important. Current tertiary education goals here are for 40% of 25-40 year olds to have a degree by 2020 (Bradley report 2008).

  5. I mention it because you’re going to have two “correct” answers for the poll with no way to tell how many people answered which question.

    Not with the spread I give, since the 25-29 value is almost identical to one of the choices, and desite the vague wording of the question, nobody is going to argue that babies without BA’s count as people who don’t have degrees. (Not I used the “pick the best answer” caveat. 30 years as a teacher has not gone totally wasted)

  6. If you read the question carefully you will see that there is no claim that there is only one correct answer. Your job as the test taker is to pick ONE (the best) answer and then justify it.

  7. Actually, I’m not seeing a lot of difference between numbers from different sources, and the only number I see are almost identical to one of these choices. Is there some rogue statistic out there that I’m unaware of?

  8. No. I’m in the (mumblety) percent that has the B.A. There’s not much they can add since I’m not training for a specific job.

    The percentage I’m talking about is at the link I posted in comment 11.

  9. Or slightly higher if you use the 25+ group, which is a bit more reasonable for looking at attainment of a bachelors. I’m not sure where the measurement difference comes from, but this table gives a much lower (24%) than commonly quoted (29%) rate for the 25-29 group.

  10. Ah, I see the confusion. When I said above that the narrower age group is a “good metric” for this kind of thing, I did not mean to imply that would be the correct answer. The question is what percentage of Americans have a college degree, and that is around 15 (the lowest answer on the poll).

    The 25-29 age cohort metric is the best way to track changes over time in more or less current educational policy/economics/whatever-you-think-is-important affecting this.

    What I was getting at was just this: How many people who are out there have had the opportunity to be disabused of widespread racist, denialist, and other stupid notions. It turns out not many.

  11. Ah. And fewer than that if you factor in how many went to college before this sort of thing would have been taught. But not many fewer.

    Okay, so why the question about Century College?

  12. Or who just were not paying attention, or who actually LEARNED their evil miscreant philosophies there.

    I’m filling in for a colleague for a few weeks at Century; A bioanthro course and a socio-cultural course.

  13. “How many people who are out there have had the opportunity to be disabused of widespread racist, denialist, and other stupid notions. It turns out not many.”
    For the record, I think community colleges do a better job of this than Bachelor degree institutions.

  14. “How many people who are out there have had the opportunity to be disabused of widespread racist, denialist, and other stupid notions. It turns out not many.”

    What a fvcking elitist (in the bad sense) attitude: “If you didn’t go to college, you poor bastards –never had a chance– to stop being so red in the neck.”

    My days serving in the US armed forces gave me more chance to interact with different ethnicities, and notions, from mine than did my time at a whitey liberal arts college.

    In the armed forces, I learned to get along well enough with those “other” folks to get the job done and enjoy a beer afterwards. At whitey liberal arts college, all I learned about other ethnicities was I “owed them something” because I got to go to whitey liberal arts college and they didn’t.

    Becca’s point is much more true as well. There is a greater diversity of notions, as well as diversity of actual *people*, at community colleges than at universities. Youngsters get to interact with adults who are not their parents or teachers. Single folk with no kids get to see how single and married folk with kids juggle their schedules to provide for their rugrats in the here and now while building for the family’s future. Suburban folk who lost their white collar jobs get to rub shoulders with three-fingered joes who used to work in the trades – each one thinking the other had the better life.

    Your “never had a chance” line is exactly why people who have to work for their money hate you white, liberal, tenured, sucking-at-the-public-teat college profs so much.

    Go take your “disabused notions” and shove them up your tight white a$$.

  15. As someone who grew up in a racist, sexist, and anti-(
    insert nonchristian religion) rural community and who does not have a college degree I also resent Greg’s idiotic claim. “How many people missed out on this very good way to be disabused” would have been reasonable but to imply that it is the only way, as was certainly implied, was insulting and clearly wrong. I believe I learned largely through moving to a city where the stereotypes I grew up believing were belied, and also through massive amounts of reading outside of any classroom.

  16. OK… I’ll take a stab at this.

    I believe the idea behind Greg’s comment about disabused notions has more to do with learning things like anthropology and biology. Discovering that there are not Three Great Human Races, that we are all genetically so closely related that the idea of “race” begins to look kinda dumb. Also, being exposed to different cultures and people of differing skin colors and ethnicities doesn’t guarantee people will not hold stupid, denialist, racist notions anyway. Not living in a homogeneous community all your life doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned anything about human nature or biology or anthropology. Of course learning those things guarantees nothing either, I suppose, but it certainly can’t hurt.

    Or something like that. ;^}

  17. “The question is what percentage of Americans have a college degree, and that is around 15 (the lowest answer on the poll).”

    If you include only those 25 and older, it’s 29% according to the information linked in post 11 (note that the numbers are for highest degree attained, so you actually need to add in the numbers listed under masters, professional, and doctorate).

    If you include everyone of any age (I rounded off the total US population to 300 million and assumed no one under 18 had a bachelors), it’s 20%.

  18. Lies, Damn lies, etc…

    Based on data here:

    Table one shows “Educational Attainment”
    The most naive calculation is 15 years+ Bachelor’s degree / Total (in the excel, =N7/B7) which gives 16%. But notice, the label is Educational Attainment. I have a Masters, and thus wouldn’t be counted in the “Bachelor’s degree” column. Thus if we sum the Bachelor’s “or higher” (=SUM(N7:Q7)/B7), we get 24%, which matches Table 1a.

    Further, if you do the same with the 25+ age bracket, you get 28%. (I guessed 30%, so perhaps this is my defense of the guess.)

    Finally if we want to look at what Greg “was getting at” — the opportunity, really we should look at those with some college, of 18 year olds, it’s 44%.

    The moral of the story (I my opinion) is that these kinds of number games are a kind of rorschach test that says more about the bias person doing the analysis than the state of the country.

  19. Becca: For the record, I think community colleges do a better job of this than Bachelor degree institutions

    For several reasons, this is probably correct.

    What a fvcking elitist (in the bad sense) attitude: “If you didn’t go to college, you poor bastards –never had a chance– to stop being so red in the neck.”

    Having never gone to college myself, I agree that this is rather elitist.

    But the truth is, colleges are a place where this sort of thing CAN be addressed, and in fact is addressed (on paper at least) with “liberal ed” requirements, and so on.

    Personally, I think everyone should havess to a college education, we should redo how we do high school so it is essentially integrated with college, and we should have a brownie point system for people who go through the whole day not being stupid.

    Azkyroth: No, I don’t think Poe, just someone with some reasonable points to make.

    Iron: would have been reasonable but to imply that it is the only way, as was certainly implied, was insulting and clearly wrong.

    I do apologize if that was implied, it is certainly not what I meant to imply. I just see college as one way to do this.

    As MK points out, I was not referring to personal experience with diverse individuals as MasterS also suggests. I was thinking more about learning to think about how to think, something that people do in fact learn outside of an educational setting (as I said, I did not attend college myself, and I think I learned to think about how to think) and that one does not necessarily learn this in college.

    But it is a good approach.

  20. Dan: You are probably right about the nature of the numbers and bias, but I think you need to define exactly what bias you feel you have rooted out here.

    My original source was a US Census Bureau report which placed BA/BS degree for people over 25 years (I’m at a diff. computer now so I can’t cite it, but it is 2000 census) and that was about 15.something percent.

    If you look at the source from comment 11 by Stephanie, which was NOT my original source, then 224,703K people hold 18,589K BA/BS degrees, which is 8%

    Of those 25 yrs or above, 196,305K people have 37,559 Bachelors degrees, which is 19%. Presumably the number goes up if you add more in to the right.

    These data are interestingly very different. I had been thinking that the number was an astonishingly low 15 percent, now I’m thinking the number is an astonishingly low 30%

  21. For the purposes of this discussion, you probably want the population age 13 or older. I suspect you attract lots of 14 year old 4chan bois in disguise, Greg. Many of them will learn better.

    So, where did you learn how to think?
    People, particularly those that make their living in higher ed, frequently talk about liberal arts and ‘learning how to think’. I suspect a comparatively small minority of people actually learn that skill at that particular educational stage, and there’s no actual evidence on it at all.
    To be perfectly honest, I came out of my Bachelor’s with few more analytical skills than I came in with. I came out with substantially more tolerance for rote memorization (hey, I had to take four semesters of a foreign language [I took Mandarin] and O-chem and biochemistry; the best way, for me at least, was incessant scrawling on paper of characters, amino acids, and pathways).

  22. I would not assume that there is no evidence. I think there is evidence, though I’m not as familiar with it as I would need to be to evaluate it.

    I did spend a year in an administrative/teaching position where we evaluated this sort of thing on an ongoing basis mainly for adults. At an anecdotal level, we individually evaluated people in a mainly adult BA/BS program for exactly this sort of thing. As part of graduation people wrote two essays that were reviewed by a fairly large committee after several rewrites and input from several advisers). One of the essays was the focus of an entire semester of work. (I’m just trying to impress that these are not throw away four page essays, but collectively more like a BA/BS honors thesis sort of project).

    So I got a very up close and personal look at the effects of an especially thoughtful implementation of liberal ed in 20 cases or so. I think the results ran from not a lot of effect to a very strong effect, but the results were not random. Most students had truly been transformed in the desired way by the end of the process.

    Two or three of these students read this blog. Maybe they will chime in.

    Of course, that was a special program that focused on doing exactly this, is very labor intensive, only admits students who really want to do this, and so on and so forth. Our vision at The U was to make a hybrid of this adult program with a special subset of the honors program, bringing in students who really were operating best outside of highly structured requirements, classrooms, etc.

    (Then the budget crisis …. end of program)

    I a pretty sure that you cynicism is valid in the context of parts of the system of education, but that it is possible to do what we are talking about here more broadly, more effectively, and not even that expensively.

  23. Having a bachelor’s degree may have an opposite effect, which is that if you go to college and you’re surrounded by white people, you may end up concluding that white people are “smarter”. If you wrongly think that almost everyone goes to college, or that higher education is a good measure of intelligence*, then you’re not going to realize that your conclusion is based on extremely poor evidence.

    (* My point here is: Higher education generally implies some above-average intelligence. Lack of higher education does not imply anything about intelligence.)

  24. lylebot: I’m sure you are correct for some (but not all) contexts, but I just want to restate that exposure to diversity was not my intention.

    What I’m talking about is going through the process of applying theory, understanding methods, wrestling with the vagaries and limitations of data, learning the process of thoughtful critique, in the context of quest for knowledge and critical thinking in a challenging environment. As one randomly wanders through life one may or may not go though the transformations one sees when one is exposed to these challenges. A good system of higher ed provides this environment and assures that most students have the best possible chance to make these transformations. A fair system of higher ed makes it possible for a much larger percentage of the population than we currently see to go through this process.

  25. I think, for me, college was particularly important in that it was the first environment I’d been in that consistently rewarded deeper critical interaction with the material. I had plenty of classes in junior high and high school that were very good at engaging interest in the material and making learning interesting (as well as some that weren’t), but college was the first place where people’s eyes really lit up at hard, tangential questions and weird connections. I did almost no rote memorization because of the ways I was encouraged to interact with the material.

    I had a number of skills before I got to college, but college made me want to use them consistently, publicly and in an organized way to get more information out of the information I had.

  26. I’m sure you are correct. I may have some residual cynicism from coasting through college with Bs without really doing much—looking back, I feel like it took me until graduate school to really learn how to think—and I wonder if that might explain someone like Bryan Pesta.

    I also think I was influenced by going to a very diverse urban high school. I remember being sort of stunned my freshman year to hear my floormates talk about how diverse the college was. I think there was one black guy and one Jewish guy out of over 20 guys on the floor—the rest were white Christians, mostly from rural or suburban towns. I’m sure it was more diverse than their high schools, but it was hardly diverse.

  27. Greg- for what it’s worth, one thing I *did* learn at the college level (albeit mostly at the community college level) was how to *demonstrate my analytical thinking in writing*. Which is, technically, a discrete skill from thinking. I could always express it orally fairly reasonably (which is technically also a discrete skill from thinking, but at some point you have to ask: If a thought falls in a forest does anybody hear it?). So I’m not shocked that a liberal arts education, particularly if it emphasizes writing, resulted in demonstrably improved analytical writing.

    To be clear- my cynicism is not skepticism that any program could teach a large majority of college students to think analytically. What I doubt is that the system currently in place is doing anybody nearly as much good as we’d like it to. Also relevant, it is true that many students come into university with the bulk of the thinking tools (they may just not be used to *demonstrating* their use of them; Stephanie’s perspective suggests some of that).
    Expanding college access without changing the system is a whole lot better than nothing (and possibly highly desirable for other reasons), but it’s not as good as also using data-driven methods to evaluate which aspects of what is lumped under a ‘liberal arts education’ are actually doing the most good.

  28. So what was the point again? I think if folks want to go to college they should have the opportunity; I think it’s becoming more difficult (certainly more difficult than in my generation) since college kids these days start out with the sort of debt that I would have if I bought a house. However, I never imagined any necessity for a majority of the population to go to college; if anything I’ve whined a lot over the decades over the decline of the technical and trade schools. In an ideal world people will do things that interest them, take some pride in their work, and be able to make a living off it too.

  29. Come to think of it, the institution where I received my BS was integrated during my senior year, my MS institution during the second year I was there, and my PhD institution during the four years I was there. So I guess us old fogies lived in a different time than many 20 year-olds.

    Is it important that the majority of bachelors degrees, since about 1982, have been awarded to females?

  30. Well, Thank you Greg Laden for such a generous interpretation of my admittedly half-cocked post.

    Most of what you and the other commenters wrote after mine makes me want to tone down my rhetoric a notch.

    I’ll refer to this song by Alanis Morissette as my mea culpa, (emphasis added):

    I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone
    I recommend walking around naked in your living room
    Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)
    It feels so good (swimming in your stomach)
    Wait until the dust settles

    You live you learn
    You love you learn
    You cry you learn
    You lose you learn
    You bleed you learn
    You scream you learn

    I recommend biting off more then you can chew to anyone
    I certainly do
    I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time
    Feel free
    Throw it down (the caution blocks you from the wind)
    Hold it up (to the rays)
    You wait and see when the smoke clears

    You live you learn
    You love you learn
    You cry you learn
    You lose you learn
    You bleed you learn
    You scream you learn

    Wear it out (the way a three-year-old would do)
    Melt it down (you’re gonna have to eventually anyway)
    The fire trucks are coming up around the bend

    You live you learn
    You love you learn
    You cry you learn
    You lose you learn
    You bleed you learn
    You scream you learn

    You grieve you learn
    You choke you learn
    You laugh you learn
    You choose you learn
    You pray you learn
    You ask you learn
    You live you learn

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