According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the 2002 American Community Survey,
52.7 percent of Americans have some college education, but only 27.2 percent
have actually obtained a degree. This is due in part to people dropping out of
school and to the fact that some colleges, such as many acting or art
schools, offer alternative education that ends on a diploma or
certification, rather than a degree. This 27 percent puts people at a
disadvantage compared to other industrialized countries, such as Netherlands and
Finland, where the percentage of people who have a degree is much higher--34
and 40 percent, respectively.
What Percent of Americans Have a Graduate Degree?
What Percent of People Have a College Degree?
What Percent of People Have a Master’s Degree?
While 27 percent may seem like a small percentage, the numbers get
even smaller when talking about higher education. According to the same survey,
only 8.9 percent of Americans have a Masters' Degree
and only 3 percent have earned a PhD. While these numbers are still low, they
have been increasing significantly over the past 50 years. In the 1940s, for
example, only five percent of the American population had a Bachelor's
The number of college
degrees varies significantly depending on geographical location, sex, and
race. States on the East Coast have the higher percentage of college graduates,
with the exception of the top spot, which is taken by the District of Columbia,
where 42.5 percent of the population has a college degree. The next spots are
taken by Massachusetts (with 35.5 percent), Colorado (33.5 percent) and Maryland
(33.1 percent). On the other end of the spectrum are West Virginia, with the
lowest percentage (16.1), followed by Mississippi (17.7) and Nevada (18.6).
For the past two decades, women have surpassed men when it comes to the
number of college
degrees earned. In 2006, over 60 percent of all college degrees were earned
by women, and the numbers are expected to get higher over the next decade. When
it comes to race, differences among races are significant, especially at the Bachelor's
or higher level. Asian-Americans hold the highest percentage of degrees (50.1
percent), followed by whites (37.6 percent), African Americans (25.4 percent)
and Latinos (9.8 percent). Among all groups, those born in the US have earned
more degrees than those who came to the country during their childhood or later.
These numbers only take into consideration people who are legal residents of the
US. Illegal aliens constitute a negligible amount of college graduates, just
under 1 percent.
While having a college
degree plays an important part in getting out of poverty and improving
social class, it is important to note that those in middle class or higher are
more likely to earn a college degree in the first place. Both the lower middle
class and the working class come out equally at 30 percent of all the college
degrees earned in an average year. The working poor, on the other hand, earn
only 12 percent of all college
degrees. They are also the most likely to obtain just an Associate
, rather than a higher degree.