Near the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama gave a speech to Congress that laid out a goal for the future: “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” At the time, America was 12th, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Almost a decade later, and with 2020 not far off, where do things stand? The percentage of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 who had earned an associate’s degree rose by 7.4 percent between 2007 and 2017—a difference of more than 5 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Still, that puts America at 10th in the world, according to the latest available data.
But even though progress has been made, the data remain quite uneven. A pair of reports released on Wednesday by The Education Trust, an advocacy group for low-income and minority students, break down the attainment data more finely. They found that the share of black adults who hold a bachelor’s or associate’s degree—31 percent—is roughly two-thirds that of white ones—47 percent. And Latinos, at about 23 percent, are just half as likely. Further, the report shows, there is not a single state in the country where black and Latino adults are as likely to have earned a college credential as their white counterparts.