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College educated adults reaches 30 percent in U.S.

A general view of atmosphere at the 2011 New York University commencement at Yankee Stadium on May 18, 2011 in New York City. For the first time in the history of the U.S., the percentage of adults who have a college degree has hit 30 percent.

Adriene Hill: The U.S. has reached a major education milestone. For the first time ever, more than 30 percent of U.S. adults have a college degree. In 1998, less than a quarter of the population had graduated.

For more, we've called up Anthony Carnevale. He heads up the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. Good morning.

Anthony Carnevale: Good morning.

Hill: So why is the number of people with college degrees going up?

Carnevale: The demand for college has been rising since the 1980s. In fact, college has become pretty much the express ticket to the middle class, and one of the only guarantees. More than 60 percent of the jobs in the American economy now require some level of education after high school, and a good 40 percent of them require a bachelor’s degree or better.

Hill: Now, what's it mean for the economy that more people are getting these bachelor’s degrees?

Carnevale: It's very good news for the economy -- that is people with higher levels of education are more productive. That's very clear, especially when they work in collaboration with flexible technology. In these times, that means our old friend the computer, hooked up to all sorts of other technologies.

Hill: Do we have enough high-skilled jobs in this country for all these new grads?

Carnevale: Yes, we do. The demand for college graduates has been rising at about 3 percent a year since 1982, but our production of these graduates has only been rising by about 1 percent.

Hill: So is one bachelor’s degree as good as the next?

Carnevale: In the final analysis, what you make and where you get a job depends on what you take. If you get a B.A. petroleum engineering, you'll be the most highly paid and most sought-after degree holder in the current economy. If you get a degree in counseling -- social work -- you'll make roughly a third of that and your unemployment rate is going to be substantially higher; will be 6 or 7 percent for some time to come.

Hill: Georgetown's Anthony Carnevale, thanks.

Carnevale: Thank you.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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