More Americans ‘learning and earning,’ but college degree gaps persist

Mike Moen, Public News Service

The U.S. has seen an increase in the percentage of adults with college degrees, which helps boost their lifetime earnings.

However, a new report released this year shows that the nation still has trouble closing racial gaps in higher education attainment, including in Wisconsin.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce says between 2010 and 2020, the proportion of U.S. residents with degrees increased by nearly 7%, leading to $14 trillion in additional net earnings over workers’ lifetimes.

However, Center Director Tony Carnevale said even though all racial groups saw positive movement, there was no substantial change in narrowing gaps.

“What we have here is a race in which everybody is running faster,” said Carnevale, “but no group is really changing their position in the race.”

He said that undermines efforts to establish racial and economic justice.

In the 2021–2022 school year, 13% of Wisconsin’s public school students were Hispanic or Latino, making them the largest minority group. This is higher than the 12.9% of Hispanic students in WPCP schools during the same year. 
The percentage of Latino students varies by school district, with the Delavan-Darien district having the highest proportion at 44% and Abbotsford at 35%. 
In urban districts, nearly 20% of students are Latino, while the percentage is much lower, at 6% in suburban and rural districts.

According to state-level data within the report, Wisconsin mirrored national progress – with a 7% increase in degree attainment. The racial gap narrowed for Latino adults but widened for Black adults.

If the U.S. wants to get serious about eliminating these disparities, Carnevale said it starts with creating an even playing field in early childhood education and K-12 schools.

“Getting from childhood to a good job in the United States is a long walk,” said Carnevale, “and you have to focus every step of the way. Because the way the American system works is that people from less advantaged families begin to lose ground in the early grades.”

The report authors say if all racial and ethnic groups had the same college degree attainment as white adults, the nation’s workers would see an additional $11 trillion in lifetime earnings.

That would be on top of the $14 trillion already forecast.

The summary included data for associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Publisher’s Notes: More Americans ‘learning and earning,’ but college degree gaps persist was first published by Public News Service and republished with permission.

Part of LNN’s mission is to amplify the work of others in providing greater visibility and voice to Hispanic, Latino communities.