As of 2008, only 41.6 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States had attained an associate degree or higher. More alarmingly, only 30.3 percent of African Americans and 19.8 percent of Latinos aged 25 to 34 had attained an associate degree or higher in the United States compared to 49.0 percent for white Americans and 70.7 percent for Asian Americans (Lee and Rawls 2010).
A rapidly changing demographic
The country continues to experience a dramatic demographic shift as the percentage of minorities (African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans) grows at an increasingly rapid rate. Minorities will soon become the majority of the population. Figure 2 shows that the percentage of white Americans in the United States has declined over the last 19 years from 68 percent in 1989 to 55 percent in 2008. That year, for the first time, more minorities than whites were born in the United States. The goal of ensuring the future global competitiveness of the United States cannot be met without the participation of all its citizens. Reaching our college attainment goal will require significant participation and contributions by all racial/ethnic groups. (See Figure 2 below)
The gender achievement gap
Historically, the term “gender gap” has been used to refer to the inherent prominence that men have in society, identifying how women have generally lagged in educational, economic and social achievement. Recent trends would suggest, however, that the term is developing a new connotation, generally describing how women are outperforming men in terms of educational achievement and attainment in society. Although there are still areas (e.g., compensation) in which men outpace women, there is evidence that in many areas the traditional gaps are shrinking and, in educational attainment at least, women are outperforming men. Nationally, women aged 25 to 34 are substantially closer to achieving the goal of 55 percent of adults aged 25 to 34 possessing an associate degree or higher than males. (See Figure 4 below)
Disparities in attainment across ethnicities
Examining the educational attainment of young Americans by both racial/ethnic and gender groups, the data show that within each racial/ethnic group, males have lower degree attainment than women. Further, Figure 4 shows that males within each racial/ethnic group are less likely to gain access to college, more likely to drop out of high school, and less likely to complete college than their female counterparts. In short, women are driving the college completion rate of the entire nation, and men are detracting from the ability of the nation to reach the goal of once again becoming the educational leader in the world. If we are to reach this important national objective, we must explore ways to ensure that all males, especially members of minority groups, are able to earn college degrees at much higher rates. (See Figure 4 below)