“By 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

This is President Obama’s 2020 attainment goal that he committed to during his 2009 State of the Union address.

As a college degree is becoming more and more essential in order to find a job and achieve financial success, it is interesting to look at how this standard has changed over the course of the last 65 years.

This map from the Chronicle of Higher Education depicts the number of adults with college degrees in the United States, by county, since the 1940’s. It is fascinating to look at how much more prevalent a college education has become, even over the past 10 years. Some interesting stats from the graph are:

  • In 1960 only 9.7% of men and 5.8% of women had a college education. This took a major jump over the course of the next 30 years and by 1990, 23.3% of men and 17.6% of women were college educated.
  • By 2005-2009, women were within 2 percentage points of their male counterparts.
  • The northeast appears to have the densest concentration of college graduates.

A couple of weeks ago my colleague, Julie Kelleher, wrote a great blog post sharing an example of what dedicated school leaders  are doing on a micro level to ensure that all children graduate from college;  this graph reflects just how this trend is growing year over year.

But it’s still not enough. Even with the number of adults with college degrees increasing (National Average from 2005-2007 is 27.5%), there are still too many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education and ultimately attaining a degree, and the variance across race and region are disconcerting.  With a college degree serving as such a strong market signal in our country, it is promising to see that the Department of Education is committed  to monitor, measure and benchmark our progress toward Obama’s attainment goal.

A few weeks ago, the Department of Education launched a new United States Education Dashboard, challenging all of us to engage in more dialogue focused on how to improve educational results.  This transparent approach to monitoring our progress toward the 2020 educational attainment signals that education is truly becoming a national priority.  I hope that a data-driven approach will help ensure that we strive to provide equal access to a college education regardless of gender or race, or geography.

So here is my first attempt at engaging the community (you!) in a dialogue focused on achieving our 2020 goals.  If your institution has found effective ways to increase retention and graduation rates, we would love to hear your story! Or if you work with an association or organization dedicated to providing equal access to a quality college education, we would also be interested in hearing more about the work that you do. Send over your comments!

Share This Article

Twitter Facebook LinkedIn Pinterest Email