Education Reversal: Attainment Trends in the United States

Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno
Nate Breznau, University of Nevada, Reno
Jennifer Lowman, University of Nevada, Reno
Thomas Harris, University of Nevada, Reno

Examining educational trends since 1940 in the United States, this paper finds that the familiar monotonically-increasing percentage of high school graduates in the adult population (25 and older) stalls in recent years, although the percentage completing at least four years of college continues to rise. Using Census and American Community Survey data, we find that the age structure of education has changed strongly with the 15 to 20 percentage point advantage in high school graduation among young adults aged 25-34 compared to their seniors aged 45-64, then began to shrink in about 1990 and has now reversed. There are striking state differences. No state had a reversal in 1990. By 2000, 11 states, mostly western, had reversals. By 2006, reversals continued in all the western states, and emerged across much of the Midwest and in scattered eastern and southern states as well.

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Presented in Session 142: Educational Trends and Trajectories