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Back to School Special Part 3: Education on the Rise


With the new school year approaching, Social Explorer is taking a closer look at education data today and over the years.  In this installment, we are looking at the rise of high school and college education through the decades.

Some of the earliest detailed census data on education came from 1850 when the census reported information about school attendance.  For many decades, the census focused on literacy rates, which we discussed in part two of the back to school series.

By the mid-1900s, data on educational attainment emerged (elementary school, high school, college, etc.), adding new insight into education levels across the nation and between population groups.  Using the 1940 and 1970 censuses and the 2009 American Community Survey, Social Explorer investigated these changes in detail.

Educational attainment, as measured by earning degrees, increased nearly one and a half times over between 1940 and 2009 at both the high school and college levels.  The trends in the data also show that college degrees today are even more prevalent than high school degrees were in the 1940s.

Comparing genders, women have had consistently higher numbers in attaining high school degrees, while men earn more college degrees.

However, by 2009, the differences in attainment between the two genders became quite small, with men catching up to women in high school degrees and women catching up to men in college degrees.  The following tables examine this growth:

Education levels have been rising across the board, but in recent years, the number of young women attending college has increased markedly.  As of 2009, 9,219,928 women were enrolled in college, which outnumbers the 7,234,021 men enrolled.  This influx of women attending college has propelled the growth in the overall number of adult women with college degrees.

We hope you enjoyed parts one, two and three of our back to school series.  Please visit Social Explorer’s maps and reports sections to learn more about education and other data.

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