Representing a historic high, three in 10 adult Americans held bachelor’s degrees in 2011, census officials reported Thursday.
College attainment has crept upward, slowly but steadily. In 1947, just 5 percent of Americans 25 and older held degrees from four-year colleges. As recently as 1998, fewer than one-quarter of the adult population held college degrees.
“We believe this is a notable milestone,” said Kurt Bauman, chief of the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch, during a telephone news conference to announce the data.
The Washington region remains the nation’s best-educated metropolis. As of 2010, 46.8 percent of adults in the area held at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest rate among the 50 largest metro areas. California’s Silicon Valley ranked second, with 45.3 percent college attainment.
In 2009, President Obama set a national goal of reclaiming the world lead in college attainment, which the United States once held. But instead of gaining ground, the nation has fallen in global rank, slipping from 12th to 16th in the share of people ages 25 to 34 holding college degrees, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. South Korea, Canada and Japan are the world leaders.