Ever since the Nation at Risk report came out, pundits, politicians and corporate education profiteers have been decrying the abysmal state of public education in this country, including the claim that we aren’t preparing people for college. Yet according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time in history, more than 30% of Americans aged 25 or older—56 million people—have bachelor's degrees.
70 years ago, only 5% of this same age group held college degrees and the number has steadily climbed since then. According to Good Education, more than one-third of the degrees are in STEM. The data also indicated that gender and ethnic disparities are closing, with 30% of women now holding degrees, compared to 31% of men. The percentage of Hispanic degree holders increased 80% over the past decade, with over 14% now holding degrees.
Of course there are many reasons for the increase, including the fact that more people are going to college because of a greater awareness of how much it can influence their future earnings, improvements in recruiting youth of color and greater outreach by schools.
At the same time, however, the data should make one question the assumption that our K-12 public schools are in terrible shape. After all, one cannot get into most bachelor degree programs without first graduating from high school with the prerequisite skills necessary for admission into a university and success there. The fact that so many young people are getting into Bachelor Degree programs suggests that the K-12 system is functioning quite well, perhaps better than ever.