Percentage of Americans with college degrees rises, paying for degrees tops financial challenges

BY Kyla Calvert  April 22, 2014 at 5:59 PM EST
College costs vary by type and quality of institution, and so does the return on investment of that tuition cost. Photo of 2012 Vassar College commencement by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images.

Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images.

Nearly 40 percent of working-aged Americans now hold a college degree, according to a new report from the Lumina Foundation.

In 2012, 39.4 percent of Americans between 25 and 64 had at least a two-year college degree. That was up from 38.7 percent in 2011, the largest single year gain since 2008. But Lumina is promoting a college degree attainment goal of 60 percent by 2025 and the current upward trend isn’t happening fast enough to get us there.

Who gets a college degree is still starkly divided by race – 27.6 percent of blacks, 23.4 percent of Native Americans and 19.8 percent of Latinos hold at least a two-year degree, compared to 43.9 percent of whites and 59.4 percent of Asians. There are signs this gap could narrow in the future. The percent of black and Latino enrolling college saw big increases between 2011 and 2012. In 2012, 67.1 percent of recent black high school grads enrolled in college, compared to 62 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, college enrollment for recent Latino high school grads went from 59.7 to 66.6 percent.

With more Americans headed to college, the findings of a new Gallup poll may be unsurprising. Paying for college expenses is the most common financial challenge facing those between the ages of 18 and 49.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.