Degree Attainment Among Working-Age Adults Rose in 2021

According to a new report from the Lumina Foundation, Latino/a and Black adults saw the largest increases in degree attainment during the year.
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  • As of 2021, more than half the nation had a post-high school degree or other high-value credential.
  • Though Black and Latino/a adults have seen significant growth in educational attainment, they still lag behind their white and Asian or Pacific Islander peers.
  • The District of Columbia has the highest rate of educational attainment as of 2021 at 72.4%.
  • The educational attainment rate rose the most in Utah between 2009 and 2021, increasing 22 percentage points.

Between 2019 and 2021, educational attainment among working-age adults rose nearly 2 percentage points, according to a new report from the Lumina Foundation.

Since 2009, when the foundation first began tracking attainment gains among Americans ages 25-64, educational attainment has increased by 16 percentage points.

As of 2021, the national post-high school education rate among working-age adults is 53.7%.

Though rises in educational attainment occurred across the board over a period of two years, certain states and racial/ethnic groups saw larger gains than others.

Vermont, New Mexico, Arizona, Maine, and West Virginia had among the highest increases in the rate of adults with an associate degree or higher between 2019 and 2021.

Conversely, states like Nebraska, Rhode Island, Alabama, and Montana had the lowest increases in educational attainment over a two-year period, rising less than 1 percentage point between 2019 and 2021.

Across varying racial/ethnic groups, Latino/a and Black adults had the highest increases in educational attainment over the two-year period.

Between 2019 and 2021, the national rate of attainment for Latino/a adults rose from 25.5% to 27.8% — nearly 2.5 percentage points. For Black adults, educational attainment increased by about 2 percentage points — from 32.4% to 34.2% — during the same period.

Despite these increases, the educational attainment rates for Latino/a and Black working-age adults still lag far behind the rates of their white and Asian or Pacific Islander peers.

The Lumina Foundation previously set a goal for the nation to reach an attainment rate of 60% by 2025. This means that 60% of adults over the age of 25 would have a college degree or other high value credential post high school.

At the current national rate of growth, reaching this goal will not be met in 2025. But some states have already begun to surpass it.

Massachusetts, Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia all had educational attainment rates higher than 60% in 2021. And since 2009, Utah has experienced the highest growth in attainment, rising 22 percentage points over a 12-year period.

Though there is still work to be done in increasing educational attainment across the nation, current progress is positive and signals that in years to come, attainment will continue to rise.