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College attendance and completion higher among millennials than youngest baby boomers

August 01, 2019

College attendance among people who graduated high school or earned a GED before age 21 rose dramatically for two generations of Americans born 20 years apart. About 44 percent of high school completers born between 1960 and 1964 attended a 2-year or 4-year college. That compares with 73 percent of high school completers born between 1980 and 1984. College attendance increased for both men and women and across scores on achievement tests and levels of family income. There were larger gains in college attendance among people not in the top quartile for test scores and not in the top quartile for family income.

Percent of high school graduates or GED recipients who attended college by year of birth, achievement test scores, and family income
Characteristic Born 1960–64 Born 1980–84

Total

44.2% 72.7%

Men

40.6 67.3

Women

47.8 78.3

Achievement test quartile

Bottom

19.2 46.5

2nd

34.2 64.2

3rd

48.4 78.6

Top

79.3 91.4

Family income quartile

Bottom

32.5 62.3

2nd

41.4 66.1

3rd

43.2 74.0

Top

61.1 84.8

There was also a significant increase in 4-year college completion between the two birth groups. (We define college completion as earning a 4-year degree within 6 years of completing high school.) Among high school completers born in the 1960–64 period, 16 percent earned a 4-year degree. That compares with 27 percent of high school completers born in the 1980–84 period.

Percent of high school graduates or GED recipients who earned a 4-year degree within 6 years of completing high school by year of birth, achievement test scores, and family income
Characteristic Born 1960–64 Born 1980–84

Total

16.2% 26.9%

Men

15.0 23.1

Women

17.5 31.0

Achievement test quartile

Bottom

1.5 4.7

2nd

6.6 14.4

3rd

13.9 26.9

Top

47.7 52.1

Family income quartile

Bottom

5.0 13.7

2nd

10.7 22.0

3rd

13.5 26.0

Top

33.1 43.8

These data are from the National Longitudinal Surveys program. The sample consists of people who graduated high school or earned a GED before age 21. We consider only college attendance that began within 4 years of completing high school. We define college completion as having completed a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of high school completion. These definitions mean this analysis considers only college completion by age 26.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, College attendance and completion higher among millennials than youngest baby boomers on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2019/college-attendance-and-completion-higher-among-millennials-than-youngest-baby-boomers.htm (visited October 21, 2019).

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