Bar chart graphic A Higher (Ed) Priority

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States has a high proportion of college-educated citizens. Stacked up against other developed countries, however, the nation is losing ground. Young adults in nations such as Korea and Japan are pursuing higher academic degrees more aggressively than their U.S. counterparts.

The United States ranks 14th in the world in the percentage of 25- to-34-year-olds with college-level degrees (42 percent). U.S. leaders from all walks are sounding the alarm: Unless more young Americans embrace the college track, political and economic decline is likely. They drive home the point with numbers: 88 percent of 23- and 24-year-olds with college degrees in America were employed during the peak of the Great Recession, while only 65 percent of those with only a high school diploma had a job.

The benefits of higher education go beyond economics, according to the Lumina Foundation for Education, in its 2013 report, “A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education.” Increased college attainment “also helps us address social inequities and improve society,” writes Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of the foundation, who believes that by 2025, 60 percent of Americans should hold college degrees.

By the Numbers

5.6 million
Americans with a high school education or less who lost jobs during the Great Recession
Growth in jobs for Americans with bachelor’s degrees during the Great Recession
Decline since January 2010 in jobs requiring high school education
Percentage of U.S. jobs that will require some kind of post-secondary education by 2020
Percentage of people in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C., with college degrees, the highest of all U.S. metropolitan areas
Percentage of Koreans ages 25 to 34 with higher education degrees
Percentage of Americans ages 25 to 34 with college degrees
Sources: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; U.S. Census Bureau; Lumina Foundation’s 2013 report, “A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education”; OECD Education at a Glance, 2012
By Mary Winter

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