College grads reach new high

For the first time, more than 30 percent of American's have at least a bachelor's, according to the Census Bureau. But there is a growing racial gap between the haves and have nots.

Kai Ryssdal: We passed an educational milestone last year that went largely unnoticed, 'cause the Census data only came out this week. For the first time, more than 30 percent of adults in this country have at least a bachelor's degree. Even though 30 percent doesn't actually sound like a lot, it is a big step forward.

What's less clear, though, is why advocates of higher education aren't making a big deal of it. From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR, Amy Scott reports.

Amy Scott: In 1947, when the Census started keeping track, just 5 percent of American adults had a college degree. Even 15 years ago, it was less then 25 percent.

Sara Goldrick-Rab teaches education policy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She says a big push to get more people to go to college has paid off.

Sara Goldrick-Rab: There’s widespread awareness that without some form of post-secondary education, it’s very unlikely that you will be able to reach and/or stay in the middle class.

College-educated people also weathered the recession better, with much lower unemployment rates. But Goldrick-Rab says while more people are going to college, not enough of them are finishing. Just over half- of full-time students at four-year colleges graduate in six years.

Goldrick-Rab: We have focused all of our energies on getting people to go, and we haven’t figured out all the keys to success.

Especially for low-income and black and Latino students, who still lag behind their white and Asian-American peers. Stan Jones is president of the nonprofit Complete College America.

Stan Jones: We have a more representative freshman class in the country than we ever have, but the graduating class that stands on the stage doesn’t look at all like that freshman class.

Jones says rising college costs are part of it, but he also says colleges need to do a better job with remedial classes, and helping students get on a clear path to graduation.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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And colleges need to start kicking the lifetime cheaters, who shouldn't even be there, out!!! In particular, I'm referring to many of the students from places like "Eritrea" that you'll find pursuing degrees in engineeering and nursing. If I had a nickel for every person from this place I've met who is functionally illiterate and dumb as a door knob who I've seen copying others or just flat out cheating there way through college, I'd be a millionaire!!! If I'm wrong, someone explain to me how third world students, with less education than our average 7th grader, make it through our so called "colleges." The remedial classes are by and large filled with these people!!! Then, they just somehow against all odds exceed even the native population...yeah,right!!!

Stan Jones may think colleges need to do a better job with remedial classes. Perhaps he should look to the high schools, which are handing diplomas to students who do not posses the basic skills that any high school graduate should have. If high schools were doing their jobs and waited until students were actually qualified to graduate before granting them a diploma, colleges could spend the time and money on creating college graduates, rather than teaching remedial classes to students who should not have graduated from high school in the first place.

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