With the release of the 2010-2014 American Community Survey estimates last week, data users can now compare two non-overlapping five year time periods. One trend apparent in the data is the steady increase in educational attainment: between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, the percentage of the population age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased in 1,000 of the nation’s 3,142 counties.
Among North Carolinians ages 25 and older, 27.8% had a bachelor’s degree or higher in the 2010-2014 ACS estimates, compared to 25.8% in 2005-2009, a significant increase in educational attainment. Forty of the state’s 100 counties also saw significant increases over this time period.
One reason for this trend is generational replacement: older, less educated generations are being replaced by younger, more educated generations. The 2010-2014 ACS estimates show that younger adults have much higher educational attainment than older adults. More than 30% of North Carolina residents ages 25 to 44 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, as do 27.5% of residents ages 45 to 64. In comparison, only 21.6% of North Carolinians age 65 or older have a bachelor’s or more.
Examining historic school enrollment trends and educational attainment for North Carolina young adults (ages 18-29) by generation shows a steady increase in college attendance and completion. In 1960, only 7% of the Silent generation’s 18-29 year olds were enrolled in college or a graduate degree program, less than half the share of Baby Boomer young adults (17%) in 1980. College enrollment has steadily increased. By 2013, nearly 1 in 3 Millennial young adults were currently enrolled in college or a graduate program.
Although many young adults have not yet completed their degrees, there are similarly clear increases in educational attainment across generations. Only 5% of Silent young adults had a bachelor’s degree in 1960, compared to 11% of Boomers in 1980, 15.6% of Gen Xers in 2000, and 17.3% of Millennials in 2013.