A College-Educated United States

For the past five years, the education community has been fond of quoting President Obama’s 2009 goal of having more college graduates, per capita, in the world by the year 2020. It is an area where we were once a leader, but have seen other nations pass us by.

That isn’t saying that we don’t have a huge number of Americans who are graduating from college. Nor does it mean that the number of college grads has seen a decline in recent years or recent decades. We are talking per capita numbers here, an area where it can be difficult to pick up gains when the percentage of P-12-age students is rapidly growing.

That’s why Eduflack was fascinated to see a new map, offered by the folks at Vox, which looks at the growth in the number of Americans gaining a college education over the past four decades. Vox bills it as a chance to “watch the US get more educated in 20 seconds.” And they are right. You can look state by state, major urban area by major urban area, and see the map change before your beautiful eyes.

What is Vox charting? In 1970, one in 10 Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree (according to data provided by the USDA Economic Resource Services). Today (OK, 2012), that number is now almost triple that.

As Vox writer Danielle Kurtzleben notes:

College degrees clearly became more commonplace nationwide over the last 40 years, but the geography of them is striking today. Broadly speaking, the South remains the place where degrees are the least common. Meanwhile, cities — and particularly the northeastern Amtrak corridor — are where college graduates have concentrated.

What’s most striking about the data Kurtzleben has charted is that we saw the steepest growth in college attainment earlier on. Between 1970 and 1980, the number of degree holders almost doubled. But even from 2000 to 2011, we saw some pretty impressive gains.

Strongest gains, over time, can be found in the Northeast out in the Northwest (both Pacific and in the Big Sky country areas). The weakest showing appears to be in the Midwest, with the Southeast coming in a close second.

It is definitely worth the look. It’ll be 20 seconds you won’t regret spending.

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