Trends in Educational Attainment: U.S. Catching Up to Utah

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The U.S. Census Bureau has been collecting information on educational attainment of the U.S. population since 1940. The Census reports such statistics as the percent of the adult population (25 years and older) that has graduated from high school and the percent of the adult population with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Recently, the Census published a report on educational attainment in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia from 1940 to 2000. These data allow us to examine both state and national historical trends in educational attainment, and to compare Utah to the other states over time.

Since 1940, Utah has consistently surpassed the national average in the percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, particularly in the last two decades, Utah has slid down in the rankings. In 1940, Utah ranked 5th highest in the nation for the percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher (see Figure 1). By 2000, Utah had fallen to 16th place in the national rankings. While male adults in Utah slipped from 3rd place in 1940 down to 9th place in 2000, female adults in Utah fell much further in the rankings: from 9th place down to 25th place.

 

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