Trends in Educational Attainment: Some College, No Degree

In our blog series on factors influencing enrollment in higher education, we now turn our lens to the current status of educational attainment in Texas and the United States. We will use data from the American Community Survey (ACS) that provides educational attainment estimates for adults (ages 25 and older) by seven categories ranging from “Less than 9th grade” to “Graduate or professional degree.” The data presented below provide ten-year trends for Texas and the United States in terms of the proportion of adults within each of the ACS’s educational attainment strata, with additional focus on the “some college, no degree” segment of the population.

Nationwide Trends

  • In 2021, there were an estimated 225 million adults who were 25-years-old and older in the United States.
  • One of the challenges in using percentages (as in the graph below) is that it obfuscates the underlying scale of the data.
  • For example, even though the “Less than HS Diploma” category has steadily decreased to 11.1% in 2021, this means that more than 25 million adults (25 years and older) have an educational attainment level below a high school diploma.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, more than one-third of this group of adults (almost 76 million) in the USA have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a number that has increased by more than 17 million adults since 2012.
  • In the middle is the group of adults who have earned some college credits, but have not earned at least an associate’s degree. While the proportion of this group has decreased by 1.3 percentage points since 2012, the total number has risen to exceed 45 million in 2021. Adding in those with an Associate’s degree increases those with “some college, no bachelors degree” to 28.7%, or almost 65 million adults.

Texas Trends

  • In 2021, there were an estimated 18.6 million adults (age 25 and older) in Texas.
  • The percentage of those adults with less than a high school diploma has dropped from 19.3% to 15.2%, which is still worse than the national average by more than 4 percentage points. These data show that 2.8 million Texans who are 25 or older do not have at least a high school diploma. Narrowing the range to between 25 and 34 years of age shows that 10.4% of Texans (434K out of 4.2M adults) in this age group do not have at least a high school diploma. 
  • Texas has kept pace with the national average in terms of adults with a bachelor’s degree (20.4% vs 20.6% in 2021), but lags behind the percentage of adults with a  graduate or professional degree (11.2% vs 13.1% in 2021). The data show there were 1.7 million more Texans with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2021 than in 2012.
  • In the middle categories, Texas has a slightly higher percentage with some college, but no degree than the national average (21.2% vs 20% in 2021), but has a lower percentage with an associate’s degree (7.5% vs 8.7% in 2021). 
  • Adding those categories together shows that Texas is slightly higher than the national average in terms of adults with some college, but no bachelors degree (28.8% vs 28.7% in 2021). This means that approximately 5.4 million Texans who are 25 or older have acquired some college credits, but do not have a bachelors degree.

So What?

As in most areas of interest in higher education, educational attainment does not occur in a vacuum. As presented in a previous blog post, the United States is bracing for a future where high school graduates are projected to decline in 74% of the states in America between 2019 and 2037. As two-year colleges struggle to bounce back from the COVID-19 enrollment cliff, transfer enrollment challenges in the near-term will remain front-and-center for leaders of four-year institutions in the state. For universities in Texas and around the country, the almost 30% of adults (25 and over) who have “some college, but no bachelors degree” serve as a source of unrealized potential for college and university enrollments in a shifting landscape where the traditional flow of direct HS-to-college enrollees and two-year transfers is projected to be problematic in the years ahead.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *