President Obama's commitment to have the world's highest rates of college graduation by 2020 received a nudge with a new release of the higher education data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Catherine Rampell of The New York Times reports that the proportion of college graduates among 25-29 year-old Americans jumped by nearly 9% to 33.5% from 24.7% since 1995.
The increase is even more impressive when considering that in 1975 21.9% in the demographic had a college degree with little improvement in the 20 years that followed.
Experts attribute the increase both to higher college enrollment numbers among American youth and better efforts from schools to help students graduate. Employers looking for higher skilled employees to drive developments in the technology sector could be a contributing factor to both.
The economic recession could have also played a role in pushing more students into pursuing higher education to avoid seeking a job in an unfriendly employment market.
The recent recession, which pushed more workers of all ages to take shelter on college campuses while the job market was poor, has also played a role.
"Basically, I was just barely getting by, and I didn't like my job, and I wanted to do something that wasn't living dollar to dollar," said Sarah O'Doherty, 24, a former nail salon receptionist who will graduate next month from the County College of Morris in New Jersey with a degree in respiratory therapy. "After I had my son, I wanted to do something I felt passionate about, to have a career."
Degree attainment among women increased at a faster rate than among men. Enrollment and graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic students was also higher than average.
The share of people with a college degree also varies tremendously by state, with 48.1 percent of people ages 25 to 34 in Massachusetts holding a bachelor's degree, but just 20.4 percent in Nevada, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a research and development center founded to improve management at colleges.
Despite the recent improvement, higher education experts emphasized that college completion rates were still distressingly low, with only about half of first-time college freshmen who enrolled in 2006 having graduated by 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
Jamie P. Merisotis, chief executive of the Lumina Foundation, expressed reservations that business needs were still outstripping the supply of college graduates, a worrying factor that could have a negative impact on the country's future as the economy picks up speed and companies look to increase hiring.