Thursday, February 23, 2012

Educational Attainment in Utah and the U.S.

The Census Bureau just released U.S. educational attainment data for 2011 from the Current Population Survey (the monthly survey which also reveals the U.S. unemployment rate) along with several other studies profiling education demographics from other surveys. The biggest news? Using the Current Population Survey shows the percent of the U.S. population 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree hit 30 percent for the first time. These reports include a lot of interesting information about educational attainment by gender, race/ethnicity, field of study along with the effects of educational attainment on earnings and unemployment. You can access the press release by clicking here.

While many of the surveys used in the Census Bureau reports aren't sufficiently large to provide state-level data, the American Community Survey (ACS) does provide educational attainment insights. Currently, only 2010 ACS data is available. You'll notice from the chart below that the 2010 ACS data shows the U.S. with bachelor's degree attainment at 28.2 percent compared to the 2011 Current Population Survey figure of 30.4 percent. (Different surveys, different years.)

Where does Utah rank? With a 29.3 percent college-educated share of the 25 and older population, Utah ranks just above the U.S. average of 28.2 percent. In the past, Utah's population did much better in attaining a college education than did the nation as a whole. Over time, both Utah and the U.S. have seen educational levels rise. However, since 1980, the U.S. share of the population with a college education has risen faster than has Utah's share. Indeed, Utah's high point in the educational attainment race occurred in 1980 when roughly 20 percent of the population had a bachelor's degree or higher compared to 16.2 percent for the U.S. From that point, the Utah-U.S. education gap has narrowed to its current 1.1 percentage point difference.

What happened to Utah's educational edge? In this case, we can trace Utah's declining educational gap to Utah women. Utah men still show bachelor's degree attainment (32.4 percent) significantly above their U.S. counterparts (28.5 percent). On the other hand, Utah women (26.4 percent with a bachelor's degree or higher) fall behind U.S. females (27.9 percent with a bachelor's degree or higher. Until 1980, Utah women showed higher bachelor's degree attainment than did U.S. women. In other words, Utah women have just not kept up with U.S. women, U.S. men or Utah men in obtaining a college education. In fact, Utah shows by far the largest college-education gender gap of any state in the nation.

Within Utah, major metropolitan areas are more likely to maintain a higher-than-average level of bachelor's degree attainment than are rural areas. Of course, it also seems to help to have a well established 4-year University in your county to bolster college education rates--note Cache and Iron counties. In order to have data for all 29 Utah counties, I used the 2006-2010 ACS averages.

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