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Record number of Americans earn bachelor's degrees despite increased cost of higher education

By Christopher Kelly
On November 26, 2012

  • Pictured above are UConn students at the 2007graduation. Recent data shows a record number of Americans getting a higher education. There is diversity in those gaining their degress. FILE PHOTO/THE DAILY CAMPUS

Based on recent census data, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that a record number of Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 earned at least a bachelor's degree. A third of young Americans in 2012 hold at least a bachelor's degree, up from 28 percent in 2001 and 17 percent in 1971. A new record has also been hit in number of high school graduates, 90 percent in 2012, compared to 78 percent in 1971.
One of the great successes of this new milestone is that the progress has not just been in one area. Record numbers of degrees are currently held by men, women, whites at 40 percent, blacks at 23 percent and Hispanics at 15 percent. There is however, a significant disparity in women over men, 37 percent to 30 percent. Asian-Americans have remained relatively constant with about 60 percent holding a bachelor's. Additionally, the numbers of Americans with degrees who are native-born and who are immigrants have also increased. The increases reverse recent fears of a trend of Americans becoming less educated.
As more Americans earned college degrees, opinions about the importance of having a degree to further one's career have intensified. According to CBS polling data, while 49 percent of the public saw having a degree necessary for one's career in 1978, in 2009 73 percent believed so. However, over the past four years the number of people who say college is a good investment has decreased from 81 percent to 57 percent. This corresponds to the dramatically increasing cost of college education in recent years. The average 2011 graduate holds nearly $27,000 of debt and 38 percent of recent graduates are currently working in jobs that do not require degrees, such as retail. For many, the cost of education has become unbearable, with nearly a third of college students who took out loans dropping out last year and 5 million Americans currently defaulting on at least one college loan payment, according to the New York Federal Reserve.
Despite the financial challenges facing American education, many see the graduate increase as a significant milestone. President Obama responded to the news by restating his administration's goal of making the United States the most educated country (in terms of degree-holding graduates) in the world by 2020. This would mean the United States has to beat Canada where over half the population graduates from some form of college education.

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