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September 05, 2008

Welcome Back to Campus ... Still a Privilege

It's back to school season. Every year, around this time, millions of students return to campus with their faculty colleagues to participate in one of the most enduring and symbolic democratic rituals of the past century. There was a time, not so long ago, that the opportunity to participate in the University experience was hardly a foregone conclusion.

Indeed, while nearly 90% of American adults complete a high school education, and as many 70% of those with a high school education pursue post-secondary education opportunities, attaining a college degree is still a pretty special occasion in the life of the American adult population.

The U.S. Census Bureau publishes annual data on college attainment. I've created and pasted in a gadget based on the Census data that will allow you to explore the American adult population and its achievement of a four year degree or more. In 1940 less than 5% of the adult population in the United States had a four year degree. Today that number is about 29%. While not so long ago more young adult men had at least a bachelor's degree than their female counterparts, today about 33 percent of young women 25 to 29 have a bachelor’s degree or more education, compared with 26 percent of their male counterparts.

We still have a very long way to go. The pursuit of a higher standard of living and achievement the American dream is significantly related to education attainment. Adults with advanced degrees earn four times more than those with less than a high school diploma. Workers 18 and older with a master’s, professional or doctoral degree earned an average of $82,320 in 2006, while those with less than a high school diploma earned $20,873.

The data below also suggest that achievement of education outcomes is still significantly segmented by racial realities. While in 1940, less than 1.5% of the African American adult population had a four year college education, today that percentage (of the adult population) is still only 18.5% (and 18.9% of young African American adults age 25-29).

As those of us with the privilege to work on a University campus settle in for another year of dynamic interaction and discovery with the young men and women who attend our colleges, it is important to reflect on how special that experience remains in the life of the cities within which we work and study, and the country as a whole.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio
September 5, 2008

Posted by lsg8 at September 5, 2008 08:55 AM and tagged

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