More college and high school grads


by David Safier

Here's a break from wall-to-wall election coverage. The number of young high school and college grads is up.

This year, for the first time, a third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That share has been slowly edging up for decades, from fewer than one-fifth of young adults in the early 1970s to 32 percent last year.

So, 12% more 25 to 29 year olds are college grads now than 30 years ago. It's good to see an education stat that doesn't knock our youth or our education system.

Sometimes people moan today's college grads aren't as well educated as "when I was a boy/girl." Most people saying that have long forgotten how little they knew when they were young, cocky college grads. But let's say they're right, that the average attainment level of college grads is lower than it used to be. Well, what if we removed the lowest of recent grads, those who wouldn't have had degrees back in the "good old days"? Those who remain would most probably match up well with their predecessors. It's like looking at the height of the tallest 20% of one group of people and comparing it to 32% of a similar group. The average height of the 20% group would be greater than the other group, and the stat would be absolutely meaningless.

High schools are also turning out more graduates these days.

The share of high school graduates in that age group, along with the share of those with some college, have also reached record levels. This year, 90 percent were high school graduates, up from 78 percent in 1971. And 63 percent have competed some college work, up from 34 percent in 1971.

If we're graduating more students, most likely there are more grads whose achievement is lower than we would like. But it's also likely, those people who would have dropped out 30 years ago have benefitted from the extra schooling.

It's easy to raise the caliber of our high school and college grads. Just bring the percentages down to where they used to be. It's a terrible idea, obvously. What would be better is if some clever statistician compared how the grads from, say, the 50s compare to a similar percentage of high school aged people today, excluding 30-40% of today's lowest achievers. An apples-to-apples comparison like that would yield interesting results.


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