Higher education

More Americans earning degrees, Iowa aiming to keep up

Country reaches a 'significant milestone'

The Old Capitol Building and Jessup Hall (left) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol Building and Jessup Hall (left) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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For the first time in decades of data, one-third of adult Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher — and Iowa needs to catch up, according to new U.S. Census data and statewide reports.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2016” report, made public Thursday, shows 33.4 percent of U.S. adults age 25 or older have at least a bachelor’s degree, marking a “significant milestone since the current population survey began collecting educational attainment in 1940,” according to Kurt Bauman, chief of the bureau’s education and social stratification branch.

In 1940, according to the bureau, just 4.6 percent of Americans had attained that level.

Of the about 2 million people in Iowa over age 25, according to the most recent 2014 data, 60 percent participated in some education or training past high school, but just 28 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher, putting the state below the national average.

Laura Ingleby, a researcher for Iowa College Aid, presented the state data at The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas symposium in Cedar Falls this week. She noted a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report indicates 68 percent of all Iowa jobs by 2025 will require some level of postsecondary training or education.

Of those jobs, 39 percent will require some college or an associate degree, 21 percent will require a bachelor’s degree, and 8 percent will require a graduate degree. Those looming demands have prompted Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to set a goal of getting 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce education or training beyond high school by 2025.

Iowa has been making progress, according to Ingleby and her entity’s research, but a targeted approach is necessary going forward. According to Iowa College Aid’s 2014 data, 44 percent of black and 64 percent of Hispanic Iowans over age 25 have not completed any education or training past high school.

Just 12 percent of black and 9 percent of Hispanic Iowans in that age range have bachelor’s degrees, according to an Iowa College Aid report. And those are the populations that are growing, according to the same report.

Through 2019, Iowa’s 12th-grade enrollment in public high school is expected to hold steady, although the percentage of minority students is expected to swell significantly. Through 2024, according to the report, the percent increase in Iowa public high school graduates is forecast at 4 percent among white students, 42 percent for Asian students, 60 percent for black students, and 83 percent among Hispanic students.

New census data shows Asian and non-Hispanic white populations are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher at 55.9 percent and 37.3 percent, respectively. The black and Hispanic populations are far less likely to hold bachelor’s degrees on the national level, with 23.3 percent and 16.4 percent doing so.

Not only do degrees matter for the economy and employers looking for skilled workers, the national and state data shows they matter for the workers, who see their earning potential skyrocket with advanced education.

According to the 2016 census data, average earnings for men over age 25 with no more than a high school education were $41,942. For women with the same degree of education, the national earnings average was $26,832.

For men over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or more, the average earnings were $79,927 nationally. For women the average was $50,856.

And Ingleby reports similar data in Iowa.

For the 9 percent of Iowa’s population without a high school degree, average household income is below federal poverty guidelines. Conversely, according to Iowa College Aid, Iowans with graduate or professional degrees saw earnings increase 30 percent from 2005 to 2014; those with bachelor’s degrees saw wages rise 31 percent; and those with some college or an associate degree made 14 percent more.

Although Branstad has called this goal a priority, some lawmakers are questioning his recent proposals to cut funding for higher education, community colleges, and a “skilled worker job creation” program based with the Board of Regents.

For example, in a revised spending plan for 2018 and 2019 released earlier this week, Branstad proposed eliminating entirely the $8.7 million set aside for that skilled worker program.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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