Skip to main content

Changes in Educational Attainment, 1940 to 2018

Note: A few people have pointed out that some data on this appears to be slightly askew, even though the story is mostly unchanged.  So don't cite it.

Don't look at the viz yet.  Wait until I tell you.

This is an update to a post I did about five years ago, showing the growth in educational attainment in the US over time. I thought then, and I still think, it's among the most jaw-dropping visualizations I've done, not, of course, for the visualization skills, but for the story it tells, and perhaps, the future it holds for us. This is from Table A-1 on this page of the Census Bureau.

First, before you dive into it, take a guess about the percentage of adults in the US, aged 35-54 with a bachelor's degree or higher.  Got a guess?  If  you have a college degree, you probably said something like fifty or sixty percent, based on my sampling of twenty people or so.  If you didn't, your guess is probably much lower, usually ten or fifteen percent.  There's a lesson there, in itself.

The answer: 38%.  You're probably surprised, either way.

Now, what was it in 1940?  Got an guess in your head?  The answer: Just under 5%.  Yes.  You read that right.

In fact, in 1940, the largest group of people in that age range had an education that ended in the 5th to 8th grade.  When combined with the people who had less than a fifth grade education, you were looking at well over half the population.

OK, now you can play with the visualization.  There are three views, using the tabs along the top.

Dashboard 1 shows the population in a column in stacked bars, colored by highest educational attainment.  Look at what happened to the blues, representing a bachelor's degree or greater (dark blue) and some college (light blue). (Technically, the dark blue is "four years of college or more, but close enough.) Choose a gender or an age range if you wish to change the view.

Dashboard 2 shows you custom views: Choose the educational attainment using the control at right, and limit it to one gender if you wish; the lines are colored by age groups.

Dashboard 3 is just the opposite and is the more interesting of the last two, I think: Colored by gender, and filterable by age, once you select the attainment level.

The incredible post-war economic expansion in the US that lasted until the turn of the 21st century coincided with a substantial increase in educational attainment, especially for women.  You can try to offer explanations about cause and effect if you wish.  And you can extrapolate about our current disinvestment in education and what it might mean for the future. It could be a long, slow, spiral downward. And as you speculate, take a look at how counties with lower and higher levels of education voted in the 2016 presidential election.

Let me know what strikes you in the comments, below.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Another 1000 Words and Ten Charts on First-generation, Low-income, and Minority Students

I have always enjoyed writing, and I consider this and my other blog like a hobby.  Usually, I spend no more than 45 minutes on any post, as I don't make my living by writing, and my blogs are not "monetized." But once in a while, an opportunity presents itself to write for a wider audience, and that's when I see what it takes to make a living putting words to paper. That happened this week.

You may have seen my opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. If not, you can read it first, read it last, or not at all; I think both this and that stand alone, despite their relationship.  In the end, we ended up with about 40% of my first draft, which is what happens when you write for a print publication. And of course, a print publication makes interactive charts, well, difficult.

I think there is more to say on the topic, because the similarities in recruitment challenges for first-generation, low-income, and minority students tend to look a lot alike, and the mo…

2018 Admissions Data

This is always a popular post, it seems, and I've had a couple of people already ask when it was going to be out.  Wait no more.

This is IPEDS 2018 admissions data, visualized for you in two different ways.  You can switch using the tabs across the top.

The first view is the universe of colleges and universities that report data; not every college is required to, and a few leave data out, and test optional colleges are not supposed to report test scores.  But IPEDS is not perfect, so if you find any problems, contact the college.

On the first view, you'll see 1,359 four-year private and public, not-for-profit institutions displayed.  In order to make this as clean as possible, I've taken out some specialty schools (nursing, business, engineering, etc.) as many of those don't have complete data.  But you can put them back in using the filter at top right.

Hover over any bar, and a little chart pops up showing undergraduate enrollment by ethnicity.

You can also choose to…

Changes in Bachelor's Degrees, 2011-2017

This will probably be the final post in Higher Ed Data Stories for a while.  As you may already know, I'm leaving DePaul for the "best coast" to take the position of Vice Provost of Enrollment at Oregon State University, effective July 1.  Thus, I'll be in personal and professional transition for a while, and once I arrive, I'll be busy learning a new institution and working on new challenges that should keep me occupied for a while. (Additionally, I'm not sure what my Tableau situation will be like...)

As you may already know, HEDS got its start when I decided to revise and share work I was already doing in my job at DePaul. Much of it, I presumed, would be of interest to university colleagues and high school and independent counselors.  But I had no idea how many people craved information like this.

So, for now, here is information about bachelor's degrees earned in 2011, 2014, and 2017, the most recent available in the IPEDS data center.  It's pres…