For most of the last century, the United States led the world in educational attainment and the economic and social mobility of its people. As our advantage has been slipping in recent decades, leaders from the President to philanthropists have set goals for boosting the percentage of Americans who complete some form of college, so more Americans are prepared for the rigors of the workplace and being engaged members of society. 

As part of this discussion, we set out to understand the relationship between increasing high school graduation rates over the last 15 years, and the progress and challenge in postsecondary enrollment and attainment. What we found in analyzing new and existing data on the educational attainment of three cohorts of 25-34 year olds is both encouraging and alarming.

The 25-34 year olds of today who graduated from high school by or before 2008 and from postsecondary education in 2014 or earlier, have the highest rate of postsecondary attainment in the nation’s history. While about one-third of this age cohort earned an associate degree or higher in the late 60s and early 70s, close to half of today’s 25-34 year olds have done so. When we add in quality certificates, this is the first group with more than half attaining postsecondary degrees and certificates. Of course, that means that about half have no such credential at a time when most jobs now require one.

Read the entire op-ed on The Huffington Post.

About the Author

Nicole Anderson, John Bridgeland and Robert Balfanz

Robert Balfanz

As AVP of Social Innovation and President of the AT&T Foundation, Nicole Anderson oversees AT&T’s philanthropic programs, including AT&T Aspire – a $350 million commitment to drive innovation in education to ensure all students succeed in school and beyond. She’s also implemented an award winning employee activation initiative and held management positions in AT&T’s call centers and network garages.

John Bridgeland is CEO of Civic, a public policy development firm. He is also Vice-Chair of the Service Year Alliance. His work on the high school dropout crisis helped bring national attention to the issue, with the TIME cover story “Dropout Nation” and two Oprah Winfrey shows prompted by his report, "The Silent Epidemic." Previously, Bridgeland served as Assistant to the President of the United States and the first Director of the USA Freedom Corps. 

Robert Balfanz, PhD, is a co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center and research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University. He is the co-director of Talent Development Secondary, which is currently working with more than 100 high-poverty secondary schools to develop, implement and evaluate comprehensive whole school reforms.

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