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Racial Gaps in Attainment Widen, as State Support for Higher Ed Falls

The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics released on Thursday its enormous annual report on the state of education in the United States. “The Condition of Education 2014” is based on 42 national indicators, from preschool enrollment to degree attainment to labor-force participation.

The report doesn’t draw any conclusions, but it provides an abundance of data on all levels of education. While we don’t necessarily learn much about higher education that we didn’t already know—especially as some of the data are several years old—the report offers a fairly comprehensive snapshot of both trends and the current state of the education landscape. Here are highlights.

Educational Attainment in the U.S. Is Higher Than in Other Countries, but Racial Gaps Are Growing

The total percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 34 percent in 2013, from 23 percent in 1990. That might not sound like a lot, but the United States is still above average in terms of educational attainment, compared with other developed countries.

In 2011, 33 percent of Americans age 25 to 34 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with an average of 29.5 percent among all countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That ranks the United States 12th in postsecondary educational attainment among the 34-member group of developed countries.

However, the gap between the share of white 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher and that of African-Americans at that attainment level widened from 13 percentage points in 1990 to 20 in 2013. The gap between white and Hispanic bachelor’s-degree holders grew from 18 percentage points to 25.

Percent of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor's degree or higher, by race

Percent of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher, by race

Postgraduate Income Has Not Rebounded

The report makes clear that recent graduates are still hurting from the recession. The median annual earnings of people with bachelor’s or higher degrees between the ages of 25 and 34 were the lowest in 2012 in more than a decade. Median income for the group was $49,950 in 2012, still well below the prerecession high of $54,020 (in 2012 dollars) in 2002.

Median annual income of 25- to 34-year-olds, 1995 to 2012

Median annual income of 25- to 34-year-olds, 1995 to 2012

Additionally, the gender pay gap is fairly wide, even among college graduates. Women ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned $46,800, about 15 percent less than their male peers, who earned $54,800.

State Support for Higher Education Continues to Fall

Grants and appropriations from state and local governments dropped across all sectors from 2006-7 to 2011-12, but public institutions, which are traditionally most dependent on those sources, were hurt the most. Revenue from state and local grants per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student at four-year public institutions dropped to $9,623 in 2011-12 from $12,366 in 2006-7, a 22-percent decline. Despite that drop, public four-year colleges received 40 percent of their income from government sources in 2011-12.

Federal grants and appropriations per FTE student rose at four-year public institutions, to $6,073 in 2011-12 from $5,728 in 2006-7. At four-year private nonprofit colleges, federal funding dropped from $7,773 per FTE student to $7,465 over the same period.

Revenue from government grants, contracts, and appropriations per full-time-equivalent student, 2006-7 and 2011-12

Revenue from government grants, contracts and appropriations per full-time-equivalent student, 2006-7 and 2011-12

Part-Time Faculty Members Now Represent Half of All Professors

Half of all instructional faculty members worked part time in the fall of 2011, up from 35 percent two decades earlier. The number of part-time faculty members rose 162 percent from 1991 to 2011, while the number of full-time faculty members rose only 42 percent. Those numbers don’t exactly capture the well-documented rise of adjunct faculty members, but they certainly point to that trend. Average salaries for faculty members of all ranks increased from 1992-93 to 2009-10, but average salaries decreased across all ranks from 2009-10 to 2012-13.

Number of instructional faculty members in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by employment status, 1991 to 2011

Number of instructional faculty members in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by employment status, 1991 to 2011

Women made up almost half of all faculty members in 2011, up from 36 percent in 1991. However, a disproportionate share of full professors are white men: 60 percent in 2011.

College Costs Are Rising Fastest at Public Institutions

In constant dollars, average tuition and fees rose 69 percent at public four-year institutions from 2000-1 to 2011-12 and 35 percent at private nonprofit four-year institutions. Tuition and fees rose 58 percent at two-year public colleges and 55 percent at two-year private nonprofit colleges.

Average tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions by type, in 2012-13 constant dollars

Average tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions by type, in 2012-13 constant dollars

Still, the average cost of attendance (“sticker price”) at private nonprofit institutions in 2012-13 was nearly twice what it was for in-state students at public four-year institutions ($42,962 compared with $21,683). Maybe that’s because private nonprofit institutions spent more than twice as much per student on instruction than did public institutions in 2011-12, $16,015 compared with $7,512, and almost three times as much per student on student services, academic support, and institutional support, $14,791 compared with $5,443.

Average net price—the average cost of tuition and fees minus the average amount of grants and scholarships—was also significantly higher at private nonprofit colleges, even though the average aid package is more than twice as much at those institutions than at their public peers. The average net price for first-time, full-time students at any income level receiving financial aid in 2011-12 was $12,410 at public four-year institutions, $23,540 at private nonprofit institutions, and $21,330 at private for-profit institutions.

College Debt Continues to Rise—and So Do Default Rates

Just over half of all first-time, full-time undergraduate students who received financial aid in 2011-12 obtained some student loans, an increase of 11 percent from 2000-1. The total amount of loans to first-time, full-time undergraduates increased 52 percent over that period at four-year public colleges (from $4,200 to $6,500 in constant 2012-13 dollars) and 44 percent at four-year private nonprofit colleges (from $5,285 to $7,610).

Average amount of student loans, by institution type

Average amount of student loans, by institution type

Of the approximately 4.7 million students who entered repayment on their student loans in the 2011 fiscal year, 10 percent had defaulted before the end of the 2012 fiscal year. The default rate was higher for that borrowing cohort than for the previous two cohorts: 9.1 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in the 2010 fiscal year defaulted, compared with 8.8 percent of those who entered repayment in the 2009 fiscal year.

59% of Students Graduate in 6 Years

Whether or not a student graduates from a four-year institution correlates highly with the type of institution that the student attended. At the most selective four-year colleges (those where fewer than 25 percent of applications are accepted), 86 percent of students graduate within six years. At open-enrollment institutions, only 33 percent of students graduate in that time. The overall six-year graduation rate is 59 percent. It’s 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions, 57 percent at public institutions, and 32 percent at private for-profit institutions. Keep in mind that the graduation rates calculated by the National Center don’t include students who start at one institution and graduate from another.

Graduation rates at four-year colleges, by selectivity of institution

Graduation rates at four-year colleges, by selectivity of institution

With high costs, relatively meager graduation rates, increasing debt for students, and decreasing support from state governments, you could say that the state of higher education leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, we already knew most of that.

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