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New data show 51.3% of U.S. adults hold degrees, certificates, or industry certifications


Lumina Foundation’s A Stronger Nation measures industry certifications for the first time, shows gaps in attainment persist among people 25 to 64 who are Black, Hispanic, and Native American

Lumina Foundation today announced the release of new data on Americans’ attainment of education beyond high school in its signature online report, A Stronger Nation, which for the first time includes data on industry-recognized certifications. According to the latest findings, the overall national attainment rate among adults 25 to 64 years old is 51.3 percent.

A Stronger Nation tracks progress toward the national goal of 60 percent of working-age Americans holding a credential beyond the high school diploma by 2025 that leads to further education and employment. The nation’s attainment rate includes associate and bachelor’s degrees, as well as high-value “short-term credentials,” that is, college certificates and industry-based certifications.

“Counting certifications as part of short-term credentials is an important milestone, as it provides a more complete picture of learning after high school among today’s students,” said Courtney Brown, Lumina’s vice president of strategic impact. “Certifications are part of an expanding set of post-high school credentials that are on-ramps to opportunity. Especially now, as tens of millions of workers find themselves unemployed and struggling to find or keep jobs, certifications may offer promising paths forward.”

Certifications are most often awarded by industry organizations and are based on assessments of skills and knowledge. They represent a critical opportunity for more people to obtain valuable education and training. Such credentials can be acquired more quickly and with less financial burden than degrees. They help individuals develop skills and competencies that employers want, and they lead to good jobs with higher salaries. 

Lumina launched A Stronger Nation in 2009 to provide a continuous measure of educational attainment and to better understand where disparities exist. As a regularly updated online data visualization, A Stronger Nation provides insights at the national, state, and county levels and across major metropolitan areas, with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, age, and credential type. 

Key findings from this 2020 update include:

  • The proportion of Americans ages 25 to 64 with a quality post-high school credential is higher, rising from 37.9 percent in 2008 to the current rate of 51.3 percent, in part because of an improved ability to measure credentials of value and because of a greater share of the U.S. population now has these credentials.
  • With the addition of certifications, 31 states and the District of Columbia have attainment rates above 50 percent, and all states have attainment rates above 40 percent.
  • Attainment is increasing among all races, but large disparities remain. Although the nation’s average attainment rate for associate degrees and higher is 43.2 percent, the rate among people who are Black is much lower, at 31.6 percent. Among Native Americans, it is 24.6 percent, and among people who are Hispanic, it is just 24.5 percent.
  • To reach 60 percent by 2025—and to meet demand for talent—the nation must ensure more Americans have access to quality programs and finish them to earn degrees and other credentials.

“Lumina measures learning after high school that results in meaningful credentials because it determines whether all Americans—regardless of the color of their skin or where they live—can find long-term, meaningful employment and participate fully in our economy and society,” Brown said. “It’s clear that as the nation faces a pandemic, historically high unemployment, and growing turmoil among communities rocked by racial injustice, we can only survive and thrive in the future if we provide opportunities for this economic mobility and social mobility to more people.”

To learn more, visit luminafoundation.org/stronger-nation/report/2020/#nation.  

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